|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: http://www.teamhoyt.com/.)
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!
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.