By Carley Dangona
BOSTON – Two former Westfield residents have competed in more than 1,100 races, earned accolades such as an ESPY award and an induction into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame, inspiring a “Yes You Can” attitude across this nation and around the world.
Last year was supposed to be Team Hoyt’s last time competing in the Boston Marathon – in light of the tragic bombings, the team will once again take part in the event to honor those who perished and were maimed.
Team Hoyt is a father and son team comprised of Dick Hoyt, 73, and Rick Hoyt, 52. The duo has competed since 1977 including marathons, duathlons and triathlons around the world where Dick pushes, pulls or carries Rick throughout the courses and across the finish line.
Rick was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth in 1962; as a result, he is a quadriplegic who cannot speak. Upon Rick’s birth, Dick and mother Judy were told that their son would never have a normal life and that it was best to institutionalize him because he was nothing more than a vegetable.
“Today, Rick is 52-years-old and we still haven’t figured out what type of vegetable he is,” Dick Hoyt told Reminder Publications
in an interview on Jan. 20.
Rick, now a Sturbridge resident, has gone on to earn a college degree from Boston University, live on his own and write a book. He uses a specialized interactive computer to communicate with others. In 1972, his first words were “Go Bruins!” Hoyt is a retired Lt. Colonel from the Air National Guard and lives in Holland. Team Hoyt has competed for the past 34 years.
After the first five-mile race in 1977, Rick wrote on his computer, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” That was the beginning of the team.
“That was a very powerful message to me. Somebody’s in a wheelchair, can’t talk, use their arms and their legs, and now they’re out there running and their disability disappears. He called himself ‘Freebird’ because now he was free and able to compete, running with everybody else,” Hoyt shared.
“Rick and I never thought we’d be running a marathon and doing triathlons, running and biking across the United States. Rick’s the one that motivates and inspires me. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be doing this. To me, I’m just out there loaning him my arms and my legs so he can compete and he’s the athlete,” Hoyt said, noting that neither he nor his son has ever considered quitting or giving up during a race.
“I am getting older and my body is starting to tell me it’s time to slow down,” Hoyt said. He is currently receiving treatment for some back issues. He explained that he was never a runner but had always stayed in shape prior to the creation of Team Hoyt. He and Rick will continue to compete, but in shorter competitions such as half marathons and “Olympic-sized marathons.”
Hoyt stated, “We’re really looking forward to it. Last year was supposed to be our last Boston Marathon. We decided that we’re going to run this year in honor of all the people that got killed and injured.”
Team Hoyt was approximately six miles away from the finish line when the bombs were detonated. Hoyt commented that there was much more police activity than usual, so he stopped to ask an officer what happened and learned that two bombs had gone off.
“My concern was all the people in the stands. My family was there, we had 42 people running for our foundation and all of their families were in the stands. One of the bombs actually did blow up in front of them, but across the street so fortunately none of them got hurt,” Hoyt said.
He recalled his thoughts upon learning the details of the explosions. “I just couldn’t believe that two people would do something like that. It’s just unbelievable to me that two people would kill, damage people who are just there to have a fun time and watch people run marathons and have a great day,” Hoyt said.
He continued, “You know, I’m hardcore – you might not like it – but to me, one for one. If I had it, I would’ve killed him. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, there’s no need for any of that to go on.
“I just feel that Boston is getting stronger – they were strong – they’re going to be stronger and we’re going to have a great year this year for the Boston Marathon. This year is going to be a very emotional year,” Hoyt said.
Hoyt travels the country doing corporate and community presentations, educating the public about disability awareness and promoting the Team Hoyt motto, “Yes You Can.” Through his presentation, he shares his lifelong commitment to changing attitudes and educating others on the world of disabilities. He and his family have seen an impact from their efforts in the area of public attitude toward people with disabilities.
Team Hoyt is beginning to branch out with representative teams from Virginia Beach, Va., San Diego, Calif., and New England in addition to the original father and son duo. “There’s a lot of organizations that are starting to do what Rick and I do after 34 years,” Hoyt commented. It’s getting bigger and bigger. It started with only two of us, but it’s spreading now and there’s a lot more people that are competing and pushing people who are physically challenged in chairs.”
He added that he recently received a request from Japan to start a Team Hoyt in that country. Hoyt said that organizations similar to Team Hoyt exist in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina.
Hoyt shared that people didn’t want Rick to go to school and some wouldn’t even sit at a table near him in a restaurant because of his condition. That response never hindered Team Hoyt’s determination. “Yes you can – there isn’t anything you can’t do as long as you make up your mind to do it and there’s no such word as ‘no.’ Rick and I never asked for special privileges as far as doing any of that, we just found ways of doing it,” Hoyt said.
The first time Team Hoyt competed in the Boston Marathon, Hoyt was in his forties, but had to qualify in Rick’s age bracket, with a race time of less than two hours and 50 minutes.
“I think there will be,” Hoyt responded when asked if a replacement runner will step in when he decides to hang up his running shoes. Hoyt said it is a possibility that a runner from one of the Team Hoyt branches will take his place.
Throughout Rick’s life, his family has wanted him to “live, learn, work and play just like everybody else.” Hoyt said that Rick’s two younger brothers treated him as any other sibling, throwing him in the pool, burying him in the sand, playing sports with him and interacting as if no wheelchair existed.
Hoyt has even carried Rick up mountains. “There isn’t anything we didn’t include him in,” he said.
For its legacy, Team Hoyt hopes to inspire the inclusion for anyone and everyone with a special need in all aspects of life.
“We have come a long way, but still have far to go,” Hoyt said.
To learn more about Team Hoyt, visit www.teamhoyt.com/index.html