The Boston Marathon started off like any other for Dick Hoyt, who pushes his son, Rick, in his wheelchair when they compete.
“We took a bus filled with runners from our team from the hotel to the start line,” says Dick, 72, who has completed more than 1,000 races (many of them marathons) with his son. “We put together Rick’s running chair, put him in it and off we went. It was a great day.”
They were making good time, an hour ahead of last year, when Dick noticed an unusual number of police officers around mile 23. “I stopped and asked one of them, ‘Is everything OK?’ ” says Dick, of Holland, Mass.
“The officer told me two bombs had detonated at the finish line,” he says. “I immediately got concerned because my youngest son and his family were waiting for us there.”
Their only option was to head straight toward the explosion. “We kept on running,” says Dick, “because it was the shortest route to the finish line.” Once they got close, he says, cops shooed them away so a stranger gave them a ride to their hotel.
Though both men are grateful to those who helped them out that day, the Boston Marathon bombing itself has left some mental scars on Rick, 51, who has cerebral palsy so he can t walk and can only talk through a computer program.
“It has really bothered him, and when he thinks about it, he starts crying,” says Dick. “He is just now coming out of it.”
Challenges like this are nothing new to the father-son running team, otherwise known as Team Hoyt, that has been inspiring thousands of people around the world for more than three decades.
The duo’s Hoyt Foundation is a non-profit organization that they formed in 1989 for America’s disabled young people. They have raised over $1 million dollars for Easter Seals, helped support therapeutic horseback-riding programs and summer camps and have donated to the Children’s Hospital Boston-Augmentative Communication Enhancement Program.
They even have a statue in their honor at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.
“When he was born, they said, ‘Put him away in an institution,’ ” says Dick. ” ‘He is going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life’. And we said, ‘No. We are going to bring home Rick home and bring him up like any other child.’ ”
In 1977, Rick was at a college basketball game when they made an announcement about a charity road race to help raise money to pay medical bills for a lacrosse player at the college who had recently been paralyzed from the waist down in an accident.
“Dad, I have to do something for him,” Rick told his father when he got home. “I want to let him know life goes on even though he is paralyzed. I want to run in the race.”
And so they did. They haven’t stopped running since. “When we run it makes me feel like my disability disappears,” Rick says.
Kim Rossiter, the father of Ainsley, 9, who has infantile neuroaxonal Dystrophy and can t walk or talk, first heard about Team Hoyt in 2008, from his daughter s physical therapist. She s now participated in more than 40 races with her father and sister.
“Doing this with our daughter has completely changed our lives,” says Rossiter, 36, a major in the U.S. Marines stationed in Virginia Beach. “I don t know where we d be now without them.”
As for the Boston Marathon, Rick and Dick say they won t let the bombing keep them from competing next year. “This did not slow us down,” says Rick. “This makes us stronger.”
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