I remember sitting on my couch one Saturday afternoon watching television; flipping channels between golf and Indycar racing when a sports update nearly took my breath away.
The sports anchor was giving highlights from a nationally televised triathlon and proceeded to focus in on one of the swimmers just about to finish up the swim portion. I sat up and stared in disbelief at what I saw; a man swimming in the water with a rope around his waist, towing a rowboat with another man riding in it. As the man got to shore he stood up, pulled the rope and boat onto shore and then picked up the other man and carried him through the transition area to the bicycle staging area. At this point, the man placed the other man into special carrier attached to the front of his bicycle, mounted the bike and began peddling into the next phase of what was an Iron Man triathlon (2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running).
Before I could process what had just happened, the sports anchor explained that the man was Dick Hoyt (age 65) and the other man “along for the ride” was his thirty-three year old son Rick and that this was their 200th triathlon. What initially appeared to me as a stunt was actually a legitimate effort by this “team” to compete in the event.
Theirs is an amazing story of inspiration and encouragement.
At birth, Rick suffered oxygen depravation as a result of the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck. The doctors informed Dick and Judy that there was no hope for their son to develop. At eight months old, the doctors recommended that they find a more suitable care facility for Rick to grow up in. The Hoyts refused to listen and were determined to raise their son as any other. Rick wasn’t able to walk, talk or do most of the things you and I take for granted. However, thanks to a group of engineers at Tufts University, Rick was able to learn to communicate using a special computer that allows him to spell out words using slight head movements.
When Rick was fifteen he asked his dad if they could participate in a five-mile charity run to benefit a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Dick was not a long distance runner but he agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair. Little did Dick or Rick know at the time, but this event was a catalyst that would forever change their lives. They finished next to last, but the exhilaration and freedom they felt became a driving force in their future endeavors. During the run, Rick told his dad that he did not feel handicapped, and that was all Dick needed to hear.
For the next twenty years, Dick dedicated his life to giving Rick the freedom he himself enjoyed. Dick trained four to eight hours each day. The level of training required to compete in these events is dramatic for any individual—now imagine having to train to carry the weight of another human in addition to your own weight. This was not Dick’s full-time job. He had a family to support and would train for these events early in the morning or late in the evening. Without a doubt, this took a great deal of discipline and commitment; fueled by a huge heap of passion.
Since that first race, Rick and his father have competed in over 942 various running events including 216 Triathlons (6 Ironman) and 65 marathons (25 Boston Marathons). In addition, Dick and Rick biked across the United States in 1992; covering 3,735 miles in 45 consecutive days – that’s 83 miles of biking and running per day!
You would think that folks would be inspired by this amazing team. Today this is true. However, when they first started out, most people were appalled at the site of Dick and Rick in competition. Like my first impression, many believed it was some sort of a stunt and it somehow cheapened their sport. However, as time moved on, it became very clear that Dick and Rick were very serious and extremely passionate about competing.
To me, Dick and Rick’s story is a story of encouragement. Through that first nudge, Rick proved to be an inspirational/life-saving catalyst for his father. If Dick had not started training for these events, it is likely that he would have died by now. You see, the rigors of this level of training forced him to get regular physicals. At one of these visits, the doctors discovered a heart problem that would have been impossible to overcome had he not been in such great shape. In this way, Rick saved is dad’s life. It was Rick’s encouragement and passion for life that ultimately inspired his father. Through this inspiration, Dick proved to his son Rick that anything is possible. Rick went on to get a college degree from Boston University and now works on the development of computer-controlled mechanical aids for the disabled.
What would have happened if Dick did not take the time to seriously listen to his son’s idea of running that first time? Nothing. That’s my point. To me, the ultimate lesson of this story is to always listen to each other, and to help others whenever you can.
Written by Dan Green