Team Hoyt: to give your child wings

The incredible story of a father who helps his paralyzed son feel the joy of movement

Author: Sylvia Borissova

Someone asked Rich what would be the first thing he would do if a miracle happened and he was no longer paralyzed. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Rick said through his computer. “At first I thought I would probably go out to run or play baseball. But actually, what I want most is to get out of the wheelchair, put my father in it, and at least once in my life be able to push him.”

In 1962, Richard Hoyt Jr. was born suffocating, with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck that stopped the flow of blood to his brain. The result is cerebral palsy, which confines the child to a wheelchair for life—without being able to move, talk and control his body. The extraordinary story I am about to tell you begins with the refusal of Dick, Richard’s father, to accept that his son would live his life in this world in physical and mental suffering.

Dick devoted literally all his energy and time to making his child’s life brighter and lighter. He started reading to him from the first months, later he taught him the alphabet, not sure what the end result would be. When little Rich turned ten, thanks to a team of engineers from Tufts University, he acquired a computer-communicator on which he could write words by pressing a button on the back of his head. Then the first miracle happened—the boy showed that he was not only aware of the world around him, but also had an enviable vocabulary and agile intellect.

Dick Hoyt didn’t stop there—he decided that there must be a way for his child to feel the joy of movement. He first began to carry his son on his back on nature walks and hikes, and soon the two were climbing one of Colorado’s peaks.

At the age of fifteen, Rich asked his father to take part in an 8-kilometer charity cross-country race. Dick Hoyt agreed to push the wheelchair and they finished in the penultimate place. The race awakened a whole new feeling in the soul of the immobile boy for whom the father has lived for these fifteen years—that evening Rich wrote on his monitor: “Dad, when we’re running, I don’t even feel like I’m handicapped anymore!”

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The boy’s words encouraged Dick to start racing against time and physic laws in the name of a single goal: to instill in his son this unparalleled sense of independence and wholeness. Dick started running five hours a day five times a week, pushing Richard in front of him in a special wheelchair. In 1981, the two enrolled under the name Team Hoyt in the Boston Marathon and defeated three-quarters of the participants. Gradually, Dick got in incredible shape and run races almost constantly. He has 72 marathons behind him, and his best result in marathons is phenomenal: 2:40.47 hours—36 and a half minutes below the world record!

After four years of running marathons, Team Hoyt took on the challenge of the Ironman Triathlon, which includes 3.8 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling and 42.2 km of running (classic marathon). There are very few people, even among professional athletes, who are able to withstand such a load, let alone finish among the first.

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Hoyt swam the first stage of the triathlon with a rope around his waist, to which a pretty heavy boat with Richard in it was tied. For the second stage, Dick rode a bike with a special seat for Richard attached to the front. Not only the father’s incredible endurance is amazing, but also the fact that Team Hoyt was ahead of two thirds of the rivals in the final. For the past 42 years, the incredible team has won a total of 1,130 races, including 257 triathlons and 32 Boston marathons. And in 1992, the two Hoyts rode a bicycle through the United States, covering 5,000 kilometers in 45 days.

Hoyt’s success is reflected in such media sports giants as ESPN, ABC, Sports Illustrated and HBO, and there is already a book on the market (Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love for His Son, 2012, by Dick Hoyt himself) and a DVD movie (Think You Can’t—Dick and Rick Hoyt), dedicated to their difficult journey—but also to their admirable example… Dick flatly refuses all offers to compete alone without his son despite the appetites of sports organizations and calculations of his speed without additional weight. Because Dick drawed all the strength to overcome his physical limitations from his son’s love for him—to give back to Richard, through movement and competition, the same strength and love many times over.

During an interview for the Real Sports show, when asked by one of the leading journalists in the United States, Mary Carillo, where Dick got so much strength, he suddenly collapsed and burst into tears, realizing what he did and what it cost him. Despite her exceptional professionalism, Mary herself couldn’t hold back her tears and was unable to ask the next question…

The grown Richard has already graduated not only from high school but also from Boston University and has a paid job in a laboratory. Although immobilized, he has seen every corner of America and has given hope through his example to millions of people with physical disabilities around the world. And the power of fatherly love, which gives wings and overcomes common logic and physical laws, is immortalized in a bronze statue of Team Hoyt near the Boston Marathon.

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