Whenever things get rough or a problem seems insurmountable, we recall the story of Dick Hoyt and his son Rick from Holland, Mass.
Since 1977, the father-son tandem has been inspiring America at marathons and triathlons and on Wednesday, they will once again be running the Boston Marathon. Rick, who is now 50, has cerebral palsy and during running competitions is pushed by his 73-year old father Dick.
At birth, Rick's umbilical cord became twisted around his neck, causing a blockage of oxygen flow and his brain could not send the correct messages to his muscles. Many doctors suggested institutionalizing Rick, telling the family that hewould be in nothing more than a vegetable state for the rest of his life.
The only sign of movement was that Rick was able to follow a person around the room with his eyes. With that one ability, he was taught the alphabet by his mother. By the age of 11 he was fitted with a computer that allowed him to communicate and attend public school.
To enable Rick to communicate, Dick and his wife worked with the engineering department of Tufts University to develop an Interactive Communication Device. Rick was able to create sentences by pressing his head against a metal bar.
In 1993, Rick graduated from Boston University with a degree in special education. He then worked in a computer lab at Boston College, where he developed a system to help others with disabilities.
The accomplishment of earning a college degree is an incredible success story in itself but that was just the start of Team Hoyt's remarkable journey. After Rick's birth his parents received the council of health professionals including one doctor at Children's Hospital in Boston who encouraged them to treat him like any other child and include him in everything they did with their other two sons.
No one could imagine that the doctor's bit of encouragement would lead to a father-son bond that would lead Rick and Dick to compete in over one thousand endurance races, including 26-mile marathons and Ironman triathlons.
Inspired by a magazine article in 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. He encouraged his dad to enter the charity race but told him that he wanted to race too.
The challenge facing Dick was not only to run in a distance race for the first time but to do it by pushing his son in a wheelchair. They finished all five miles, coming in next to last, but real victory was what it meant to Rick. He told his father that when he ran, it didn't feel like he was handicapped.
To build up his endurance, Dick began training every day by pulling a bag of cement in the wheelchair when Rick was at school.
While Dick pushes his son in the wheelchair for marathon races, for triathlon swim events, he uses a rope attached to his body to pull his son sitting in a boat. For the cycling, he rides on the front of a specially designed tandem bicycle.
At this week's Boston Marathon, a new bronze statue will be presented honoring the incredible spirit and strength of character exhibited through the years by Team Hoyt. A similar scale model of the statue is part of an exhibit at Boston's Logan Airport.
Fittingly, Team Hoyt's trademark logo is "Yes, you can."
By Jim Zbick