April 12, 2013

Father, disabled son inspire many as marathon partners

They do triathlons too – 1,092 races in all that have cemented their bond and their celebrity.

The Associated Press

HOLLAND, Mass. – The year was 1992, and Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, wanted to run and bike across the country to raise funds for a charity for cerebral palsy -- a condition that 30-year-old Rick developed at birth.

click image to enlarge

In this April 5, 2013, photo, Rick Hoyt's personal caregiver Lori Templeman, left, helps him put on gloves at his home in Holland, Mass. Hoyt's father Dick has pushed Rick, who is a quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, in a specially designed wheelchair along the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon route for more than 30 years. They plan to compete again in Monday’s race.

File photo/The Associated Press

Dick Hoyt, Rick Hoyt
click image to enlarge

In this circa 1980s photo, Dick Hoyt, rear, pushes his son Rick as they compete in the Boston Marathon, passing along Heartbreak Hill in Newton, Mass.

File photo/The Associated Press

Additional Photos Below

But the charity didn't want anything to do with a trek across the United States.

"And, uh, so this insurance company that was going to finance us backed out with four weeks to go before -- so we had to refinance our house here so we are able to pick up the expenses," Dick Hoyt recalled recently, sitting next to his quadriplegic son at their home in the hills of western Massachusetts.

Twenty-one years later, after running, biking and swimming together in some of the world's highest-profile competitions, 73-year-old father and 51-year-old son are among the most recognized faces at the granddaddy of them all -- the Boston Marathon.

One of the race's sponsors recently unveiled a life-size statue in their honor in the town where the race starts. Another backer, Timex, pushed so strongly to be identified with the duo that it would allow them to talk to The Associated Press only if the article mentioned the two are promoting the watch maker's social media campaign.

They've gone from being skeptics dogged by veiled references about abuse to visionaries, even heroes, mirroring how perception and treatment of people with disabilities have changed over the years.

"When we started running in road races and stuff, I used to get a lot of phone calls and letters from other families that had disabled people, and they were very upset with me; they said, 'What are you doing dragging the disabled son through all these races? Are you just looking for glory for yourself?'" Dick Hoyt said. "What they didn't realize: He was the one dragging me through all these races."

Father and son had to get creative to race together.

Dick pushes Rick in a specially designed wheelchair when they run. When swimming, Rick wears a life jacket and is belted into a seat that's towed by a rope attached to Dick's wetsuit vest. For biking, the younger Hoyt sits in a chair at the front of his dad's bicycle.

Rick developed a severe form of cerebral palsy, a condition that limits motor skills, during birth, when the umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck and cut oxygen to his brain.

Dick rejected doctors' suggestions that he put his infant son in an institution. Rick later went to public school and joined Boston University.

"This would prove one of the most difficult tasks I'd ever endure, but, finally, after nine long years, I became the first quadriplegic to graduate from the Boston University School of Education," Rick said through a computer synthesizer he uses for communication. "This has been my greatest personal accomplishment to date because I have shown to disabled people that they don't have to sit back and watch the world go by."

Rick has run, biked and swum with his father in 1,092 races -- including 252 triathlons, 70 marathons and 95 half-marathons -- over the past 34 years, including a wartime race in El Salvador in which they had to be escorted by armed men.

Kim Rossiter, of Virginia Beach, Va., a major in the U.S. Marines, says the Hoyts inspired him to go running with his 9-year-old daughter, Ainsley, after she was diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder that keeps her in a wheelchair.

"Immediately, my family found a therapy. It's a therapy like no other," said Rossiter, who has run in at least 42 races with Ainsley. "You cannot imagine the look on her face as the wind blows in her face while running."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

Dick Hoyt
click image to enlarge

In this April 8, 2013, file photo, Dick Hoyt, left, talks with his son Rick as he wheels him next to a statue dedicated in their honor in front of the Center School in Hopkinton, Mass.

File photo/The Associated Press


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)