It’s likely you’ve seen their picture or a video of Dick and Rick Hoyt running and finishing a marathon or triathlon together.
That’s because beginning in 1977, the father-son dynamic duo competed in more than 1,100 races – everything from the Boston Marathon to the Ironman in Hawaii. There was burly Dick Hoyt pushing and Rick sitting, smiling and cheering him on.
Dick, the father, passed away in 2021. Rick, his son, passed away yesterday at the age of 61.
So ends one of modern-day’s motivational and inspirational stories.
When Rick was born with cerebral palsy, the doctors encouraged Dick and his wife, Judy, to place Rick in an institution. They actually told the couple that trying to raise their son on their own would bring “nothing but pain.”
“Put him away,” a doctor told the couple. “You’re young. Have more children.”
In other words, forget about Rick. Just move on. But they couldn’t do that, and didn’t do that. In fact, Judy made it her mission to not only advocate for Rick, but also for countless others like him. She successfully petitioned schools to make accommodations for children with special needs. She even opened up a human services agency and a camp to lead an effort to make kids like Rick feel welcome, needed and appreciated.
When Rick was 16 years-old he asked his father if they could compete in a race together. His dad agreed. They came in second to last place. It didn’t matter. They loved it.
Rick Hoyt couldn’t speak – that was until engineers at Tufts University developed a computer that made it possible. Rick could spell out words using his head and a computer-generated voice would relay the message. After his first race in 1977, Rick wrote/spoke to his father:
“Dad, when I’m running, my disability seems to disappear.”
Speaking of his father, Rick said, “He was my motor, I was his heart.” Dick was a retired lieutenant in the Army and National Guard. “I’ve always said that I’m just lending Rick my arms and my legs,” Dick said back in 2000. “He’s the one with the heart.”
Dick Hoyt was one tough dude. He was built like a linebacker. It’s hard enough to run a marathon or a triathlon yourself – but pushing someone else while you do it?
Dick Hoyt said it was easier than it looked because the duo were motivated and ran with a message:
That message was “Yes, you can!”
If you don’t look carefully or go a little deeper, you might just think Dick was doing all the work, but a real father-son dynamic played out. Dick and Rick did it to call attention to people with disabilities, to remind people they have value and worth. But Dick said he was able to do it – he was motivated to do it – because Rick said he wanted to do it. The son motivated the father.
Whatever challenge you might be facing, whatever handicap you might be managing, if you want something badly enough, if you have the will, if you have a “why,” you will find a way.
The race was really a metaphor. It wasn’t only about covering the miles – it was about starting, giving it a go, taking a chance and then enduring and then finishing what you start.
“I use running to help motivate people and inspire them,” Rick Hoyt once said. “You can do anything that you set your mind to do.”
I love the perspective from Dick, who once reflected,
“You know, I’m just a regular guy. I mow my lawn, shovel snow from the driveway, and change the oil in our vehicles. I do the grocery shopping and cook most of our dinners. I’m like any other man in America. Only I got lucky—I have a beautiful son and an activity we can do together, despite his disability. It’s been an incredible journey. I’m not a hero. I’m just a father. And all I did was tie on a pair of running shoes and push my son in his wheelchair.”
Rick Hoyt returned the sentiment, saying,
“I have a list of things I would do for you if I was not disabled. Tops on that list: I would do my best to race the World Championship Ironman pulling, pushing and pedaling you. Then I would push you in the Boston Marathon.”
Team Hoyt reminded the world there is value and dignity in every person God created.
Know your “why” and the Lord will show you a way.