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 to 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."
When the gun sounds to mark the start of the 116th running of the Boston Marathon this coming Patriots Day, Team Hoyt runner, Wes Harding, will be completing a four-year journey that has been well worth the "weight".
For much of his adult life, Harding was guilty of filling many days with a heaping helping of "Yes You Can". Phrases like "Yes you can Super-size it", "Yes you can pass me the gravy" and "Yes you can give me an extra scoop of ice cream on my hot fudge sundae" were often heard spilling from the lips of Harding's mouth.
The elementary school teacher and principal at Temple Christian Academy in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, tipped the scales at 210 pounds, with occasional gusts up to 220 during the holiday season, and viewed himself as more of a couch potato than a marathon runner as he approached his fortieth year on the planet.
While attending his weekly church service at Temple Baptist Church one December day in 2007, Harding sat quietly reflecting on his life while watching a video entitled, “Yes, You Can” by Dick and Rick Hoyt, which was presented as part of the morning service. One single word scrolled across the bottom of the video screen. “CAN”.
That one, simple three-letter word was the word that helped transform Wes Harding from an overweight couch creature to the man he is today; a highly competitive marathon runner.
"When I turned 40 years old in 2007 I knew that life’s journey was about half over for me", explains the husband and father of four teenage daughters. "The question I had for myself was: “What do you want to do with the second half of your life?”
"I was overweight and I did not look or feel good and something had to change. Some people, when they turn 40, buy corvettes or take trips, but I wanted to start “living the dream”. I knew there was more to life than sitting on the couch watching TV and doing nothing."
Harding had never been a runner, but for some unexplained reason harbored the life long dream of running a marathon. He jokes that up to that point the only running he ever did was "to the fridge and back during commercial breaks".
"As an educator, I tell students everyday to “live the dream” but I myself was not doing what I preached. I was told by a friend of mine four years ago “don’t let the dream live you, but rather start living the dream”.
Harding began taking the steps to turn his dream into reality that very day and left church determined to begin a healthier life style filled with better food choices and daily exercise. Never one to do anything in moderation, Harding set his sites on, not simply running, but marathon running.
"A deep desire of mine was to run the Boston marathon as a qualified runner, but unfortunately I was no runner. With Boston’s strict qualification times I knew this dream was just a dream. This incredible feat seemed nearly impossible, but I knew that with hard work, a lot of determination and perseverance to stick with it I could do this."
Harding's journey towards his goal began with a single step as he laced up his running shoes and made his very first footprint into the frozen snow outside of his Sarnia home on that cold December morning.
"It was two days after Christmas when I took my first step outside", shares Harding, who today weighs in at 150 pounds or sixty pounds lighter then when his journey began. "The snow was blowing and the temperatures hovered around –15C but I knew there was no turning back. My dream had started."
In order to achieve his goal, Harding had to overcome, not only his poor physical conditioning, but also several other mental and physical obstacles.
He had been told by a respected marathon runner that he would never be able to run a marathon because of his size and his weight. These words of negativity greatly discouraged Harding and left him questioning whether or not he would be able to achieve his aggressive goal.
But with support and encouragement from his family and his own inner resolve, Harding refused to suppress his dreams.
"After watching Dick and Rick’s story that day in church, I knew that I could make a difference in my own life as an individual and as a father. The hardest part in making this change was taking the first step, but with the encouragement of my family and the determination to make a difference, the first step was taken."
Additionally, Harding had to overcome a major physical obstacle when he survived a collapse during a 10km race. This was actually a blessing in it's own way as it led to a diagnoses of heart/valve disease which Harding continues to be treated for. Even with this diagnosis, Wes refuses to stop running.
As he continues to train, his doctors believe his heart has actually gotten stronger and have given him a clean bill of health.
Now, four years since Harding experienced the Hoyt's video and began living life as a thin guy, he has run five marathons and will be running Boston as a qualified runner. During the past six months he has run a 5k in 17:48, a 10K in 38:26 and a qualifying marathon run of 3:11.02.
As an educator and molder of young minds, Harding uses the Hoyt's "Yes you can" message in daily interactions with his students. He says his students have “exceptionalities” and works tirelessly to give them the opportunity to experience life to the fullest.
"Sometimes when we are surrounded by what appears to be many difficulties, we may in fact be surrounded by many opportunities. I have shared Dick and Rick’s story with countless students. The students are inspired by the special bond between a father and a son and that they too can make a difference."
"I tell my students to dream big and try to convey three main points to them. First, that they are special, second to make a difference and third that with hard work, determination and perseverance you can achieve your dreams! "
"I also share with my students that as we “run the race” of life we can make a difference. We can make a difference in our homes, a difference in our communities and most importantly a difference in our own lives."
Harding, a devout Christian, uses his strong religious beliefs as the daily motivation that helps not only him to achieve his goals but to help others he comes in contact with to do the same.
He shares his belief that “God has made each person special and has given them special gifts and talents to be used to make a difference. God wants each of us to make a difference wherever we go and that you can do anything you want.”
"I run for the Lord and I run to “make a difference”. I tell my students that we are a family, a team that seeks to change the world. We stick together through whatever may come our way. We are one and together we will go through the valleys and together we will climb the mountains and when we reach the top we will rejoice together....for we are one......we are a team."
After completing his dream of running the Boston Marathon as a member of Team Hoyt, Harding has aspirations of competing in his first Ironman Triathlon this July in Lake Placid, New York.
Quoting the words of the late Steve Jobs, Harding added, "'The journey is the reward' and the journey during the last four years has been fantastic. The last four years have been the years of my life. With the support and love of my family they continue to inspire me to “Live the dream”
Friends, fans and supporters of Wes Harding can help him achieve his fund raising goal by clicking on his Team Hoyt Crowdrise page. 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.