Sunday, June 19, 2011

Team Hoyt

Photo By R. DeRosier

June 19, 2011 was a landmark day for the Hill family. My grandfather  not only celebrated Father's Day, but also a milestone birthday; he became an octogenarian. A party was held at my parent's house in his honor. A small crowd of 23 people attended, with four more joining in via Skype.

The anticipation of this day jogged my memory to a YouTube video that had been forwarded to me years ago about an inspirational father/son triathlon team, better known as Team Hoyt. Once a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, Dick has since retired from the military. His son Rick, now nearing 50, holds a degree in special education from Boston University. Rick also is a non-verbal spastic quadriplegic due to cerebral palsy.

Perhaps you have also seen their story on YouTube (See below). Search Team Hoyt, and you will find several results. Look them up on Facebook, and you will see their wall is covered with messages from all around the world. However, it was Dick's recent book (2010) Devoted: The Story of a Father's Love for His Son, that really got me thinking. (Read more of the story, see the video, and find the book at:

While in HS, Rick heard of a charity run to raise support for a teenager who had been in an accident leaving him paralyzed. His father agreed to run the race, while pushing Rick in his wheelchair. Following the event, Rick typed on his computer, “Dad, when I'm running, I don't feel disabled anymore (p. 87).” The rest, is history.

To date, Team Hoyt has run over 1000 races including the Boston marathon, numerous triathlons, and even the prestigious Ironman Hawaii competition. In each race, Dick pushes Rick in his wheelchair, pedals behind him on a specially designed bike, and pulls him in a floating dinghy through the water. As if that is not already amazing, I was shocked to learn that Dick wasn't even an athlete at age 37 when all of this started!

Dick had never learned to swim, and only mastered the skill once Team Hoyt began triathlon racing. He also hadn't ridden a bike since he was a child, and hadn't settled into a consistent exercise routine as an adult. Becoming physically fit to compete with world class athletes is a feat for any middle-aged person, let alone someone who is going to add a 110 pound plus companion to the workout!

I was further floored to learn that the Boston Athletics Association wasn't going to allow Team Hoyt to run as official entrants in the marathon unless they could qualify in Rick's age division, even though it was Dick who would be running the race, pushing his son Rick in his wheelchair. With a little training, they were able to accomplish this goal. Dick is now in his 70s, and the pair are still racing, making it a priority to appear at Boston every year.

Dick has been asked on several occasions to run by himself, but has never accepted an invitation. I think it may be because what drives him to accomplish these seemingly unbelievable tasks comes directly from his son. In his book Devoted, Dick writes about what empowered the strong team finish of the grueling Ironman Hawaii race.

“I knew the credit went to my son. He was my motivation. Something gets into me when I am competing along with Rick that makes us go faster. My strength comes from him, as if it moves from his body into mine. The strength that I got from my son that day enabled us to become Ironmen (p. 130).”

As I reflect upon this story, I am inspired first by Rick because of his perseverance and determination to live his life. He was 12 years old before a machine was built that would allow him to communicate. Dick says, “[Rick] told me later that he could handle not being able to walk or move his arms, but the inability to communicate is what bothered him most (p. 65).” I believe this is true. After speaking at a church service this spring, I was introduced to a young man with CP who was non-verbal and was immediately humbled by the experience. I've learned to cope with the way I move, but I would be lost if I was unable to speak; it's such a big part of life.

I am also inspired by Rick's commitment to obtaining a higher education. It took him nine years to complete his Bachelor's degree, taking only two courses per semester because it took him six times longer than his classmates to complete his homework.

His very involvement in the world of competitive sports makes me wonder what physical activity I could accomplish, if I would only try. Team Hoyt's motto of: “Yes You Can!” speaks of achieving lofty dreams and exploring endless possibilities.

It is Dick's story too, that also provides me with hope and inspiration. When someone dear to me is suffering, I often feel a deep desire to take their place. Rick expressed a reciprocal feeling when quoted in a 2005 edition of Sports Illustrated, “The thing I'd most like is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once (p. 88).”

I recently met a girl with cerebral palsy in a body cast who is recovering from the same orthopedic operation that I had as a child. While visiting, I wished I could crawl up into her cast and endure her pain, immobility, and road to recovery that lies ahead. “I could do it again,” I thought. “Why does another person need to suffer when I already have? Can't I just do it in her place?”

The reality is, sometimes we cannot change people's circumstances or take their place, no matter how strongly we may feel. It is in those times, we may feel stuck, helpless, and doomed to merely watch what is being played out in front of us, but what I have learned from Dick Hoyt, is that maybe we can help others to bear their circumstances, finding ways to get behind people, so they can “stay afloat,” and move ahead in life.

I love the sentiment Rick shares of his father that is quoted towards the end of the book (Read What My Father Means to Me online). “He is not just my arms and legs. He’s my inspiration, the person who allows me to live my life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same (p. 197).”

Happy Father's Day!

Sources Cited:

Hoyt, D., & Yaeger, D. (2010). Devoted: The story of a father's love for his son. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Reilly, R. (2005). Strongest dad in the world. Sports Illustrated, 102(25). 88.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Photo by A. Mialkowski
June 6, 2011

Every year, the faculty that I work with has an end of the year staff party.  This year it was decided that we would go golfing, playing a round of 9 holes.  This proposal piqued my curiosity and evoked my imagination.  

The thought of me driving any motorized vehicle is a bit hilarious to think about in the first place, let alone one that goes off-road along an uneven terrain.  The thought of then stepping out of said vehicle to whack a tiny ball hundreds of feet using my gross (like the play on words?) motor skills and hand-eye coordination was only going to predictably lead to frustration.  

The solution: I asked to only putt once our team was on the green and to be a passenger in the golf cart.  

The result:  I had a really great time!  I sunk the putt on the last hole helping our team make par in our golf scramble game.  Want to watch me putt?  Check out when I totally missed the hole on YouTube.   It takes a lot less force and much more control to putt than I anticipated.  Fortunately, everyone was encouraging of letting me simply experiment with this sport.

While I was out on the course, I made the following observations about the culture of golf:

1.) The setting is gorgeous.  We had a really nice day and I was able to bird watch (one of my favorite activities) while my colleagues teed off.  I was so engaged watching a great blue heron fly across the pond that I forgot I was in the middle of a game!

2.) I love the accessories!  I had no idea there were so many items golfers can purchase to enhance their game.  I was surprised to learn about magnetic place holders that can connect to gloves or a visor when not in use and the Never Bend grips that can be placed on putter handles so you never have to bend down to pick up a ball on the green again!  

3.)  Riding in the golf cart was certainly a fun experience; driving one should be a sport in itself.  

4.)  Golfing is a fun way to spend time with friends and celebrate summer!

If you enjoy playing golf, you may want to check out UCP-CM’s annual golf tournament on June 20th , 2011, starting at noon, at Wapicada Golf Course. It’s $90 per golfer, and all the funds raised go to support a great cause.  More information is available on the UCP-CM homepage.   

The Courage to Dance

Photo by S. Wiens
May 23rd, 2011

In her young adult novel Speak, Laurie Halse Andersen writes, “Gym should be illegal. It is humiliating.”

I certainly felt that way as a fifth grader when it came time for the swimming unit in physical education class. Having never learned to swim after repeated attempts at the sport, I was embarrassed by my lack of ability, and scared to let my peers in on my secret. I remember crying in angst while my parents held me in their arms the night before swimming started.

Prior to sending me off to school the following morning, my father affirmed my feelings in writing and encouraged me with these words, “Be courageous. It is hard to be on display, exposed for all to see.”

I was reflective of this childhood memory one weekend because I found myself leaning on my father’s words of advice as I got ready for church. I had agreed, along with several other people, to be part of a flash mob during both morning services.

(On a side note: A flash mob it is a well choreographed dance for groups of people to perform in public in the midst of unsuspecting crowds. Oprah’s staff pulled off a surprise performance during the premier episode of her 25th season when the Black Eyed-Peas were performing. Check it out here: Now, back to the story :)

I was all excited to perform until I woke up Sunday morning and realized what a vulnerable act I was about to commit! Dancing is for professionals. Sure, I have all the words to Michael Jackson’s Thriller memorized, (to which I’ve been known to dance around my house from time to time pretending to be a zombie), but I wasn’t looking forward to dancing in public; I wasn’t relishing the idea of putting on display the fact that I don’t move well.

So, I once again took my father’s advice: Be courageous! I put on my back shirt a friend made for me, which reads “Agents of Awesome,” ( I needed all the moxie I could muster!) and headed out the door.

How did it go? The dance was taped using six different cameras and posted to You Tube. Check it out here:

I have to admit, my heart pounded the whole time while I waited nervously in my seat to join the dance. I also have to admit that I am glad it is over and now I can cross it off my bucket list: I have participated in a flash mob. Finally, I have to admit that it not only takes courage to dance in public, but maybe even more courage to enjoy myself and the way that my body moves. I often find it challenging to fully relax and engage in recreational physical activities, or appreciate other’s enthusiasm towards them, when such activities often serve as poignant reminders of my imperfections. It is in that moment that I need to pause and realize how much fun I could be having if I would simply change my attitude and perspective. The truth is, I enjoy dancing to music (I just prefer to do it in private)! It is fun to move my body to a good beat—even if I look ridiculous. I may not excel at dancing, but that doesn’t mean I should exclude myself from the joy it brings! Life is short, and there are many opportunities out there to have fun that involve movement—all it takes to is a little courage and a catchy beat!

Welcome to the Walk!

Photo by A. Foreman, Shadow Lake Portraits

If you are reading this, you may already be familiar with my blog that I write on a bi-weekly basis for United Cerebral Palsy of Central MN (UCP-CM; Learn more at The entries that appear on their site also appear in my blog.  I wanted create my own space so I can post more often, add pictures, and freely write about my walk with the Lord--not just cerebral palsy.  Below is the introduction that I placed on UCP's site when the blog began. 

Greetings readers and welcome to my new weekly blog through United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota (UCP-CM)!

My name is Jenny Hill, I am 27 years old, and a previous scholarship recipient from UCP-CM as well as a person living with mild spastic cerebral palsy. I was raised in Sherburne County and spent six years studying at St. Cloud State University. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Information Media (2006) and a Master’s Degree in Educational Media (2008). I will be starting my doctorate at Bethel University (July 2011) to begin coursework towards a K-12 Principal Administrative License. I currently work as school library media specialist in a public elementary school.

I see this blog serving two important purposes:
  1. Highlight what is happening at UCP-CM and in the surrounding communities in which they serve. At least once a month, blog entries will focus on UCP-CM events, advocacy issues, or profiles of people with CP or those who champion people with disabilities. This blog is ultimately designed to be a resource for those who are involved with this organization and are interested in learning more!
  2. Acknowledge and give a voice to the unique way that people with CP view the world by honestly addressing routine challenges and observations that come with having cerebral palsy. Although I do not find it healthy to view people’s lives solely through the lens of limitation, I also cannot deny that having a disability changes the way people, including myself, view the world, altering both our physical gait and our everyday experiences as we walk through life.
Is this blog for you? I believe the answer is a whole-hearted yes! I believe it will enrich the lives of people living with cerebral palsy and other disabilities because it will be a place to find personal and relatable stories. I also believe people with able bodies will have the opportunity to expand their understanding of this condition in order to learn more about the experience of those around them with CP whom they love.

I look forward to walking with you on this journey! Check this site weekly for new blog postings, subscribe to the RSS feed, or follow this blog through United Cerebral Palsy of Central MN on Facebook and Twitter. Your comments are always welcome!