Both marathon fans and simply fans of the human spirit, alike, are more than likely to know the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt. The father/son team, who make their home in scenic Holland, MA, will be running in their 30th Boston Marathon this April.
This, in itself, is a truly amazing accomplishment.
The milestone is made 26.2 times more amazing by the facts that the elder Hoyt, Dick, is 71 years old, and his son, Rick, who will be celebrating his 50th birthday in January, has spent his life in a wheelchair. Rick lives each day as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, the result of oxygen deprivation at birth.
Dick pushes Rick in a wheelchair for each step of the 26.2-mile event to the delight of the millions of adoring fans who know their inspiring lifelong adventure. Their entire story of inspiration can be found on their website at www.teamhoyt.com or on the pages of their best-selling new book, Devoted-The Story of a Father's Love for His Son.
As they do each year, Dick and Rick Hoyt have assembled a team of runners from Australia, Canada and around the country who comprise The Hoyt Foundation 2012 Boston Marathon team.
The team will be running to raise money for the Hoyt Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity whose purpose is help integrate disabled people into everyday activities so they may live fruitful and productive lives.
Over the next several months, I will be introducing many members of the 2012 Team Hoyt Boston Marathon Team and sharing their motivating stories and experiences as members of this inspirational group during the continuing series entitled, "Yes You Can Meet the Team Hoyt 2012 Boston Marathon Team."
Anyone who has ever witnessed a marathon event is likely familiar with the harrowing experience of seeing a runner who hits the wall—that unfortunate event when the mind tells the athlete to push towards the finish line while the body shuts down and simply can't muster the energy to continue.
Well, in this believe it or not story, Morrie Ripley overcame hitting something far more indestructible than a mere wall. Ripley, will be competing in the 2012 Boston Marathon despite having overcome near-death just over a dozen years ago after hitting a moose.
The 37-year-old Ripley, who was born and raised outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was traveling home from visiting friends on a dark autumn night in September of 1999 when he drove his vehicle into a moose that had previously been hit by another vehicle.
He attempted to maneuver his car around the helpless animal, but struck it in such a manner that the moose landed on top of him, while his passenger was left with only minor injuries. He was quickly air-flighted to a nearby hospital, unconscious and unresponsive.
The father of two awoke from a coma two weeks later with fractures of the C1, C2 and C7 vertebrae and a lateral burst of the C6 vertebrae—the same four bones that actor Christopher Reeve broke when injured in a horse-riding accident.
Much like that superhero, this real-life man of steel refused to let his accident permanently keep him from flying again.
My doctors were unsure whether I would survive, let alone wake up. After I woke up, doctors were unsure of the extent of my brain injury or the level of paralysis. They informed me that I was paralyzed from the neck down, but were uncertain whether or not I was permanently paralyzed. They certainly gave me no reason to be hopeful or positive, as my injuries were so severe.
Ripley was told by doctors that with a lot of hard work and extensive rehabilitation, he may be able to walk again.
“It was clear from that moment on that the journey I was about to embark on was going to teach me the true meaning of a lot of things, amongst them pain, frustration, patience, dependence and, most of all, perseverance,” Ripley said.
Ripley explains that the pain he went through was “enough to bring the strongest of men to their knees”, and spasms that twisted his muscles in ways they are not meant to be helped him become the man he is today.
Through determination and a "yes you can" attitude, Ripley refused to give up and hoped that, someday, he would again learn to walk and regain some sense of normal to his life.
Until then, I don't think I actually knew the definition of the word frustration. Not being able to feed or dress yourself or even the simplest task of taking yourself to the washroom. These were just a few of the daily tasks that I took for granted and now needed the help of others to get me through the day. Constantly depending on others quickly teaches you the definition of the word frustration.
Though Ripley's progress continued through months and months of painful rehabilitation, it was during a lighter moment that his running career began.
At one point in my rehab, I jokingly said to my neurologist at an assessment, 'Well, I'm kind of walking. I guess it won't be long before I'm running the Boston Marathon.' Though I was joking, he quickly responded, 'Keep your dreams realistic. It's not in the cards.' He used three words in that sentence that I never use: dreams, realistic and not.
From that moment forward, Ripley was a man on a mission and knew that the progress he had made up to that point was minimal compared to where he knew it would go.
When something became difficult, it just pushed me that much harder to succeed. It's a lot like the wall at Mile 17. No matter how much it hurts, no matter how much you want to quit because it is easier to, you just don't. You must keep on pushing.
Ripley improved dramatically over the course of the next 10 years, learning to not only walk, but to function in the manner who once knew. He learned to ease and control his violent muscle spasms and added long-distance running to his daily regimen.
In May of 2009, Ripley entered into his first marathon, Maui Marathon.
It was my first marathon, and hydration problems due to my medication coupled with heat like I've never experienced, were obstacles that I never anticipated, but at the same time, it had me hooked. I knew I had to learn how to manage my meds better, but I also knew I could run. I wasn't the first guy in, but I wasn't the last either.
Ripley is passionate about his running and uses it as a stress-reliever. His personal best for a full marathon is 3:52 and 1:40 for a half.
Though this will be his first Boston marathon, it is his 12th marathon overall. Between Dec. 5, 2010 and Dec. 4, 2011, he has run eight marathons, competed in Ironman Canada, two half iron mans and eight half marathons.
Running Boston as a member of Team Hoyt's 30th Anniversary Team will mark the pinnacle of Ripley's comeback.
I'm running Boston not only for me, but for everyone out there who has been told that they are too small, can't do it or that their dreams are unrealistic. That no matter how difficult things get, rewards come to those who persevere.
I want people to see my story as a lucky event and not an unlucky one. Sure, I've broken my neck, but it taught me a very important lesson: how to inspire the uninspired. If, through my story, I am able to help one more person with any sort of disability to believe that there is hope and that they should never stop chasing their dreams, then it will all be worth it.
Team Hoyt has given me a chance to live my dream and give me the opportunity to give back so that others may do the same. I'm certain a few tears will be shed when I finally meet Rick and Dick in person. It will be something I will never forget.
Friends, fans and supporters of Morrie Ripley can help him achieve his fund-raising goal by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last year, members of the team combined to raise over $120,000 for the Hoyt Foundation.
Todd Civin is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.