As many of my readers know, I'm a sucker for a good story. Not only to write one, which hopefully happens on occasion, but to read one. To become inspired, motivated, challenged and pushed to my own personal limits after reading it.
I personally believe that the challenges of others are placed before us so that we can learn, grow, become better, and raise our own personal bar. This makes the "Why's" in life seem a little less arbitrary and a little bit more easily explained and accepted.
"Why did this have to happen?" is easily explained by "Because it serves a greater purpose."
I've been blessed to become friends with Dick and Rick Hoyt over the past year or so. For those who live under a rock or don't pay attention, Dick and Rick are the Father/Son marathon and triathlon team who have spent the last three plus decades teaching all us "less fortunate" folk the phrase "Yes, You Can" by their every action.
Dick and Rick have competed in over 1000 racing competitions despite the fact that Rick is a 48-year-old spastic quadriplegic, who is relegated to spending life in a wheel chair and Dick is his 70-year-young father. Dick has pushed, carried, towed and pedaled Rick "to victory" for the past 33 years and taught anyone who knows them the meaning of love, dedication and perseverance.
Dick is the muscle and the physical strength. Rick is the heart, the soul and the emotional spirit. If you ask Rick about this, he adds that he is "the brains" of the team, as well.
For those who don't know their story in greater detail, I encourage you to visit their site at www.teamhoyt.com or watch their viral video below entitled, "Team Hoyt, I Can Only Imagine." They tell the story far better, than I could ever dream.
And with Father's Day upon us, Rick Hoyt asked me if I would use my space in this column to publish a letter he wrote to his Dad on Father's Day, 2008. Like the Hoyt's story as a whole, this is one that doesn't get old and should probably be dusted off every Father's Day from now until forever.
Like Team Hoyt's story, it reminds us of the importance of the special love between sons and fathers while at the same time helping us answer the question, "Why?"
Because it serves a greater purpose.
What My Father Means to Me—By Rick Hoyt
My name is Richard E. Hoyt Jr., and I have cerebral palsy. I cannot speak or walk. To write this story, I’m using a computer with special software. When I move my head slightly, the cursor moves across an alphabet. When it gets to the letter I want, I press a switch at the side of my head.
I am half of Team Hoyt. We are a father-and-son team , and we compete in marathons and triathlons around the world. Our goal is to educate people about how the disabled can lead normal lives. We started racing in 1979. My high school was having a road race to raise money for a lacrosse player who was paralyzed in an accident.
I wanted to show this athlete that life can go on, so I asked my dad if he would push me. My wheelchair was not built for racing, but Dad managed to push me the entire five miles. We came in next to last, but in the photos of us crossing the finish line, I was smiling from ear to ear!
When we got home, I used my computer to tell Dad, “When I’m running, I feel like my disability disappears!” So we joined a running club, had a special running chair built, and entered our first official race. Many of the athletes didn’t want us to participate, but the executive director of the event gave us permission.
Soon we were running three races a weekend, and we even did our first double event—a three-mile run and a half-mile swim. Dad held me by the back of the neck and did the sidestroke for the entire swim. We wanted to run in the Boston Marathon, but we were not allowed to enter because we had not done a qualifying run. So in late 1980, we competed in the Marine Corps Marathon, in Washington, D.C., finishing in 2 hours, 45 minutes. That qualified us for Boston!
A few years later, after a road race in Falmouth, Massachusetts, a man came up to my dad and said, “You are quite an athlete. You should consider a triathlon.” Dad said, “Sure, as long as I can do it with Rick.” The man just walked away. The next year, the same man said the same thing. Again, Dad said he’d do it, but only with me. This time the man said, “Okay, let’s figure out what special equipment you’ll need.”
So on Father’s Day in 1985, we competed in our first triathlon. It included a 10-mile run, during which Dad pushed me; a 1-mile swim, during which Dad pulled me in a life raft with a rope tied around his chest; and a 50-mile bike ride, during which he towed me in a cart behind him.
We finished next to last, but we both loved it. Soon after, we did our first Ironman Triathlon. We’ve now competed in more than 950 races, including 25 Boston Marathons and six Ironmans. During every event, I feel like my disability has disappeared.
People often ask me, “What would you do if you were not disabled?” When I was first asked, I said I’d probably play baseball or hockey. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that I’d tell my father to sit down in my wheelchair so I could push him.
If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be living in a home for people with disabilities. 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.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And thank you.
-Richard E. Hoyt Jr.
Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for Bleacher Report and Sports, Then and Now, he can be reached for hire or comment at email@example.com. He performs publicity duties for the Father/Son Marathon team, Team Hoyt, and major league baseball pitcher, Jason Grilli.