Thursday, June 14, 2007

Team Hoyt

Father and son Dick and Rick Hoyt compete together in marathons and triathlons. They climb mountains together, too, and once trekked 3,735 miles across America.

Rick, however, can’t walk, or even talk.

When he was born (1962), the umbilical cord wrapped around his head and stopped the oxygen from flowing to his brain. The prognosis: Rick would never develop. He would be like the proverbial “vegetable.” The doctors advised the Hoyts to institutionalize their son.

They refused, determining to raise their son as “normally” as possible.

Turns out Rick wasn’t a vegetable, his cognitive powers were intact. The Hoyts hired a team of Tufts University computer scientists to build a $5,000 special PC that Rick could use to pick out letters and spell words with a very slight head movement. His first “words” were “Go Bruins” – the Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals. The family realized Rick had been following hockey with the whole family – he just couldn’t communicate it – till now.

In 1975, Rick was accepted into public school. Two years later, he expressed his interest in participating in a five-mile run in support of a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Dad Dick wasn’t an athlete, but agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair. That night Rick said he didn’t feel handicapped when he was competing.

That was just the beginning for “Team Hoyt.” In 1981, the father-son pair entered the Boston Marathon. Amazingly, they finished in the top 25%. Early on, few felt comfortable enough to speak to Rick, but that changed.

After four successful years in marathoning, the Hoyts felt it was time to take on a new challenge: triathlon. Dick said he sank like a stone in the water, at first, and hadn’t been on a bike since he was six. But he had more than enough heart for this daunting challenge, even to the point of training five hours a day, five days a week, even while working.

Dick’s Father’s Day gift was a new bike that carried Rick in front; (in the swim portion, incredibly, he pulled Rick in a boat).

Needless to say, Team Hoyt provided immeasurable inspiration to fellow competitors.

Not everything has been easy. Rick cannot fully control his tongue while eating in restaurants. It offends some patrons, who change tables, and this bothers Dick. But by and large, Team Hoyt has made great strides in developing understanding for the needs of less-abled.

Rick graduated from Boston U. (1993) with a degree in special education. He works in the University’s computer labs developing machines that can be controlled by eye movement alone.

Speaking across the nation, the Hoyts share their message of grit, triumph, and simply that everyone should be included. See for more.

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