Just as it has every April since 1897, the tiny Massachusetts town of Hopkinton is busily preparing to play host to the start of the Boston Marathon this Monday. For one day each April, Hopkinton becomes the Bay States version of Punxsutawney, as it is thrust into the spotlight with all the world's eyes upon the sleepy New England town.
A sea of runners, shoulder-to-shoulder, muscles fit and toned, will test their metal this Patriot's Day as they gallop from Hopkinton to Heartbreak; from Wellesley to Copley, each with their own individual goals in mind.
With the exception of a handful of the elites, few of the 20,000 entries view winning as that goal, and yet, each of them carries something personal with them which motivates them to put mind and body through 26.2 miles of challenges.
For the 29th time, Boston Marathon fan-favorites Dick and Rick Hoyt, aka Team Hoyt, will pin numbers to their chests and make the familiar trek through the neighborhoods of eastern Massachusetts this Monday. The father/son duo has become as much a part of Boston Marathon lore as names such as Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Uta Pippig and Johnny Kelley.
The Hoyts have spent the last three-plus decades teaching fans around the globe through their true life motto "Yes, You Can." Everything about Dick and Rick screams their mantra as they continue to defy aging and disability en route to over 1,000 racing competitions. Rick, 49, was born a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Dick at 70 years young has pushed, carried, towed and pedaled Rick "to moral victory" for the past 33 years while helping to teach the world around him the meaning of love, dedication and perseverance.
“After 28 years of running the Boston Marathon I get more excited every year just thinking that Rick and I are still able to take part in such a great event, explains the obviously fit septuagenarian. “Rick has often said, 'If it comes down to doing just one race event every year it would be the Boston Marathon'. I have to agree with him.”
Hoyt recalls that when he and Rick first tried to enter the Boston Marathon in 1981, they were turned away. “When I think back 30 years ago, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) did not want us in the marathon because Rick and I were different than all the other runners. They made Rick and I qualify in Rick’s age group, which was 20 years younger than my age”, chuckles Hoyt. “They thought this would be a way to deter us from even thinking about trying to qualify. I am sure they thought we would just give up and go on our way.”
“Well as you know, we did not give up and Rick and I ended up being honored at the 100th running of the Boston Marathon as Centennial Heroes by the B.A.A. and their sponsor John Hancock. Now we are one of the crowd favorites. Much of the coverage you see on the local TV stations on marathon day is made up of the male and female leaders, along with Team Hoyt.”
Rick Hoyt, will be riding in style this year in his new running chair,with arms waving, to the delight of the millions of onlookers that line the marathon route.
“He may be sleeping come Ashland,” laughs Dick. He's practically lying down in his new chair.”
Rick, who is non-verbal, spells out his answer one letter at a time with the help of his personal care attendant, Mike Adams. “Yes I do still get excited for another Boston Marathon,” explains the Boston University graduate who lives independently in his own apartment despite his disability. “Every year I get more excited than the last, because the crowd has been keeping track of how many years we have been doing the Boston Marathon. A lot of people have signs to encourage us.”
I asked Rick what his favorite moments of his favorite race were. “I have a few favorite moments. I really enjoy all of the people that come by our booth at the expo, being interviewed by WBZ-TV and getting picked on by my friends at the starting line.”
In addition to running simply to spread their "Yes, You Can" message, Team Hoyt forms a marathon team each year to raise money for their Team Hoyt Foundation.
Team Hoyt Office Manager, Kathy Sullivan Boyer, excitedly explains how the 20 runners who make up the team fared this year in their fundraising endeavors. “This year the Boston Marathon Hoyt Foundation Race Director, Doug Gilliland, set a fundraising goal of $100,000 to be raised by the twenty team members. We recently sent out a congratulatory email to the team as they surpassed $103,000 in donations to the Team Hoyt Foundation.”
Boyer took a moment from her pre-event preparation to thank the team's sponsor, John Hancock. “John Hancock is a wonderful sponsor and great supporter of both Dick and Rick and the Boston Marathon Hoyt Foundation Team. For the past several years they have given us charity bib numbers for the marathon and in doing so have helped us to raise thousands of dollars for the Hoyt Foundation.”
She adds,”The money raised through their efforts have become generous donations to several well deserving organizations, such as Easter Seals of MA, Inc. and Children's Hospital Boston- Augmentative Communication Department, as well as local summer camps for the disabled and therapeutic horseback riding organizations.”
The teams online coach is none other than Boston Marathon legend Uta Pippig. Pippig who won the event a record three consecutive times (1994–1996), offers the members of the marathon team, online training advice, motivation and tips from the legend herself for several months leading up to the event.
The affable Uta, who has also won the Berlin Marathon (1990, 1992 and 1995), the New York City Marathon (1993) and represented Germany in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics thoroughly enjoys her role in coaching up the Team Hoyt runners and loves everything the Hoyts represent.
“Every time I see Dick and Rick Hoyt at a race, I just want to hug them and say ‘You go guys!’. What they have accomplished is a tribute to the human spirit in all of us. Team Hoyt stands for what is best in sports and life. Their never-give-up attitude is an inspiration to people everywhere. They work tirelessly for their charity and to raise money for their causes.”
The native of, what was once, East Germany continues, “Single-handedly the father and son team have become a symbol of what people can accomplish in this world—no matter what the challenges. They have touched so many people with their generosity and their spirit. With each race they run, with each event they attend, they are making the world a better place.”
Pippig, who runs her own charitable foundation called Take The Magic Step LLC, is in her fourth year as the team's online coach. “When Team Hoyt asked me to be their coach for the 2008 Boston Marathon and I said ‘yes’ immediately. I coached them again for the 2009 marathon, which was their 1000th event. I am honored once again to coach the runners who support The Hoyt Foundation for this year’s marathon in Boston. I get so much inspiration from the entire team’s dedication, willfulness, courage, and care for each other and the Hoyt's. I am happy to help them in their charitable efforts in any way I can.”
Dick expressed a mutual thanks to Pippig and marvels at the esprit de corps that has been building amongst the Team Hoyt members. “I am especially excited this year to be a part of the marathon because of our wonderful team of runners and our awesome, on-line coach, Uta Pippig. The emails that have been going back and forth since last fall have really inspired and motivated me and I always enjoy reading them. The friendship and camaraderie that has been built among people who have not even met each other yet is inspiring, and I am very proud to be a part of this wonderful group.”
Team member Chuck Wagner, who hails from San Diego, California shared his thoughts on running with the marathon's most esteemed duo. “Running a marathon as a part of Team Hoyt is truly an honor. My thoughts going into Boston are thoughts of excitement, anxiousness, and some nerves. This is a world renowned race and to be a part of something special such as the Hoyt Foundation and Team Hoyt is an experience.”
“I don’t know what exactly will be going through my mind as I see the finish line in my sights. I’m sure I will be overwhelmed with all types of different emotions and hopefully my adrenaline will carry me through the finish line. I will be thinking about the whole experience and how it culminates in one joyous moment, when I officially cross the finish line.”
He adds, “I will probably be crying after I cross the line and wanting to find my parents to embrace me after all I have been through. As I write this now at work, I have goose bumps and I’m tearing up. This is probably similar to how I will feel after the race is over.”
Wagner has experienced his own personal challenges during his lifetime and appreciates how coach Uta has helped him deal with his battle with bipolar disorder. “She has been extremely encouraging towards me and helping understand my Bipolar disorder that I live with on a daily basis. Uta even took the time to search out a specialist in the Boston area for me. Uta didn’t even have to do this for me, but she did it anyway. I think this speaks volumes to her as a mentor, a coach and as a person.”
Team Hoyt harrier, Doug Smith of Louisville, KY will be running his first Boston Marathon on Monday. “It has been a challenging process the last few months balancing work, family, training, weather, and fundraising, but the challenge is nothing compared to what Dick and Rick have gone through and are still are going through.”
“Every time I feel like complaining or taking it easy, I simply reflect on Dick and Rick and am powered through.”
Marathoner Dave Crowley was inspired to join the team for a very personal reason. “My dad passed away in March (2010) and it's been very challenging dealing with losing him. When the opportunity presented itself to be part of Team Hoyt, I thought what a great cause, and a great way to honor my father's memory.”
“I have had the privilege of participating in a few events that Dick and Rick Hoyt have been part of, and it is always very inspiring and a great example of love between father and son. They are also a reminder of how much I miss my own dad. As both a father and a son, I have a very special place in my heart for Dick and Rick and the incredible charity work they do. Thanks! God Bless
Local runner, Amy Blanchard, of Wenham, MA feels nothing but strength and gratitude as she approaches Marathon Monday. “As we approach the end of this long road there have been so many times that I have been filled with self doubt about my ability to run this distance. It only last a brief moment because I quickly revert my thoughts to the Hoyt's and they push me further.”
She adds, “Words can not express the honor and gratitude I feel to be included as a member of this incredible team. Not only do we have the opportunity to run alongside the infamous, Dick and Rick Hoyt, the infinite wisdom of legendary Uta Pippig at our fingertips but are privileged to be among some of kindest, motivating and inspirational people in the world.”
Hometown hero, Rebecca Martin of Hopkinton itself, has had a hard time keeping emotions in check at the thought of being part of such an exclusive team. “I've felt, as a result of the proven dedication of the Hoyts to their mission, an unwavering sense of purpose throughout the entire journey . The immediate welcome, feeling like family, have been a lifeline and motivation countless times when I've felt overwhelmed. A strength of spirit absolutely unique to Team Hoyt.”
Jessica Jackson of Wilmington, NC has run one Boston Marathon previously. She too stacks her challenges against those that the Hoyt's face and finds them to be pail in comparison to the day to day challenges that Rick experiences.
“Throughout the course of my training, I have had several occasions when frustration or annoyance would arise over one of the many things that are a part of running. Things like finding a bathroom in the middle of a run, heading out in the rain, getting thirsty or hungry on a run, and chaffing to a name a few.”
“When I have sensed frustration, I have thought to recognize the privilege it is to be able to have these "annoyances" in my life and to have gratitude for my ability to deal with such "annoyances" with ease. I think of the gratitude, courage, and perseverance that Dick and Rick demonstrate in the face of far greater adversity.”
“So as I go into this home stretch, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I will have by being a part of Team Hoyt's Boston 2011 experience. I realize the importance of not letting the little things within this experience nor my life take away from the sense of hope and faith that is always available to us.”
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