While each story told during Saturday’s session motivated the audience, distributors could not wait to hear about one of the world’s greatest inspirational stories in the last half-century. The story begins in 1962, when Rick Hoyt was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to control his limbs.
“Forget Rick. Put him in an institution,” the doctors told Rick’s parents. “He will be a vegetable the rest of his life.”
But Dick Hoyt and his wife, Judy, knew differently. In Rick’s eyes they could see that their son was growing and learning and absorbing information. They decided to bring him up like any other child. In doing so, they raised $5,000 so engineers could create a device to help Rick talk. His first words at age 11 were “Go Bruins!” (The Boston Bruins are the Hoyts’ favorite professional hockey team.)
From there, Rick was allowed to participate in public schools. He went on to graduate from high school, and he received a college degree in special education from Boston University. Rick now lives on his own in an apartment and works in Boston.
With those achievements alone, Rick has shown the world that the word “disabled” needs a new definition. But it is during a 26.2-mile marathon, 112-mile bike race, or 2.4-mile swim when the Hoyts turn heads and turn doubters into believers.
The Hoyts competed in their first race in 1972 when Rick wanted to show support for a classmate who was paralyzed in an accident. Dick pushed Rick five miles in his wheelchair to complete the race. After the race, Rick told his father that “when we run it feels like I am not disabled anymore.” That race changed Rick’s life; the words changed Dick’s.
Dick started to train with Rick regularly, entering more and more races all so Rick can have that feeling that transcends his capabilities. In 1981, they ran in the Boston Marathon’s wheelchair division and finished at a time that beat 85% of all runners who don’t have to push another person. They eventually qualified for the official Boston Marathon, and the fastest they’ve ever completed the marathon is in 2 hours 35 minutes 17 seconds—only 30 minutes off the world record.
Over the years, Team Hoyt became stronger and stronger and someone suggested to Dick that he should try triathlons. “Sure, but only if Rick can come along,” Dick said.
The Hoyts have since competed in more than 270 triathlons, and they refer to themselves as “triathlon freaks.” They do it with Dick towing Rick’s 110-pound frame in a small rubber raft during the swim portion. Dick then picks up his son from the raft and carries Rick from the boat to place him on a chair that is mounted on the front of their customized bike. Then, it’s over to the wheelchair for the final leg of the race.
In 1989, they completed their very first Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. It’s a grueling race that often destroys people who aren’t pushing a wheelchair. Ten years later the Hoyts tried it again, to simply prove they could still accomplish the feat. Dick showed the audience a video of that second Ironman, in which Team Hoyt ran into trouble with a broken bicycle part that delayed them 90 minutes.
With the chances of completing the Ironman before the 12 a.m. (midnight) deadline becoming slimmer and slimmer, the Hoyts forged ahead with a commitment to not stop until they saw the finish line.
“Rick is the competitor,” Dick said in the video. “He is a fighter and he never wants to give up. It’s just something that gets inside of me when I am pushing him, and I know I can go faster and do all these things. I am just out there to loan him my arms and my legs so that he is able to compete.”
The Hoyts finished the race with 45 minutes to spare at 11:25 p.m. They have since competed in additional Ironman competitions. Recently, the Hoyts became the 26th and 27th inductees into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame—Rick going first, of course.
The effects of Team Hoyt’s story and vision are causing changes all around the world. They recently dedicated their 25th running of the Boston Marathon to the Easter Seals Disability Services and raised US$370,000 for the organization in the process. Last year, through their races, they raised US$1.5 million for non-profit organizations throughout the world.
More than that, they regularly receive letters from individuals who have turned their lives around after hearing the Hoyts’ story. People are becoming better fathers, mothers, and examples in their community, and they are achieving more than ever before.
With everything they’ve been able to accomplish, Team Hoyt’s message is simple: “Yes, you can.” And as one listens to their story and sees their example of love, passion, and vision, you can’t help believe that anything is possible.