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

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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
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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

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Tammy Stapleton, of Reading, Mass., is a mother of three girls who will be running Boston for the third time this year, after raising more than $12,000 for the nonprofit Hoyt Foundation Inc., which helps disabled people get specialized wheelchairs and communication equipment, as well as access to therapeutic animals.

"The Hoyts are my heroes, and the girls look up to them," Stapleton said. "Dick is doing it not for his own glory."

It all began at a college basketball game where Rick, 19 at the time, heard an announcement about a benefit run for an athlete who had become paralyzed in an accident. Rick said he felt he had to participate in the 5-mile race to show the victim "that life goes on and he could still lead a productive life."

His father, who was then 40 and whose athletic feats were limited to the occasional run of a couple of miles, said he agreed to push Rick's clunky wheelchair, not realizing a streamlined racing chair would have made the experience less painful.

"After that race, I was really hurting," he said. "I could hardly walk for about two weeks, and so that's when I talked to Rick and told him that we were going to have to get a new chair so I won't be hurting as badly."

Rick's reaction after the race, his dad said, was inspiring and made it impossible to quit.

"What he told me is, 'Dad,' he says, 'when I'm out running it feels like my disability disappears' -- which is a very powerful message to me," Dick said.

So the Hoyts traveled to Greenfield, N.H., where an engineer designed and built a custom racing chair.

Rick says the Boston Marathon is his favorite race -- despite the bugs in his face and the sometimes-cold New England spring winds.

"His body doesn't move, where I can stay warm, you know, because I'm out there running, competing and stuff," Dick said.

Their journey has not been without pain, both physical and emotional. Rick's parents divorced and his mother later died of cancer. And while father and son were participating in the Ironman race in Hawaii in 2003 -- a famously grueling test of swimming, biking and running -- they crashed at the 85-mile mark of the bicycle ride and spent five hours in the emergency room.

"He had stitches all over his head, he had cuts all over himself, he was all bruised up," Dick said of his son. "But he's got a great attitude about it, too, because the Ironman finishes at midnight and we didn't get out of the hospital until 2 o'clock in the morning -- and he wanted to go out and finish the Ironman."

The races have taken a toll on Dick, too, who suffered a heart attack while training for Boston in 2002. Doctors discovered two major arteries were largely blocked, and he had three stents inserted.

Besides, pushing a wheelchair for 26.2 miles can be excruciating.

"You are out there pushing your own weight, and then you've got the weight of the running chair, and then Rick's weight," Dick said. "And when you are out there going up hills, it's really terrible."

Still, the experiences are priceless, Rick said.

"I have thought long and hard about what I would do if I weren't in a wheelchair. I really don't know what I would do first. I love sports, so maybe I would play hockey, basketball or baseball," Rick said. "But then I thought about it some more and realized that what I would probably do first is tell my dad to sit on the wheelchair -- and now I'd push him."


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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


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