“When I’m running, I don’t feel disabled.”
When Rick Hoyt lined up for his first road race in 1977, there was no one else like him. A 15-year-old born with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, he wanted to participate in a community 5-miler to help raise money for a high school lacrosse player who had become paralyzed in an accident.
His father, Dick, pushed him in his wheelchair for the entire 5 miles, their fellow competitors giving them a wide berth, either out of respect or amazement. After all, no one had seen anything like it before.
By the time Team Hoyt’s run ended with Dick’s retirement from racing in 2014, the duo crossed the finish line at 72 marathons (including 32 Bostons), 257 triathlons (including the Ironman in Hawaii) and 37 Falmouth road races. All told, they lined up at the start of more than 1,000 events. In doing so, they changed the face of road racing forever.
Rick Hoyt, who often said he used running as a way to motivate and inspire people, died earlier this week at age 61 after complications with his respiratory system. Dick Hoyt died in 2021 at age 80.
“It’s hard to believe they both have now passed on but their legacy will never die,” said Dave McGillivrary, the race director of the Boston Marathon. “We will always be grateful, Rick, for your courage, determination, tenacity and willingness to give of yourself so that others, too, could believe in themselves, set goals and make a difference in this world as you have.”
It would be difficult to overstate the impact the Hoyts had on running and road racing. Today’s inclusive, all-comers atmosphere found at races from the Boston Marathon, to the Feaster Five, to the most modest of neighborhood 5ks would not be possible without trailblazers like Rick and Dick Hoyt.
“What the marathon allows us to do, what Rick and Dick did, is to find some meaningful, powerful experience to express ourselves,” four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers told The Boston Globe. “They were a huge part of the Boston Marathon. They wanted to be part of it, and they were, and that’s what counted. And because of them, other people can say, ‘I’m going to try to do it.’ That’s what’s great about them.”
The Hoyts didn’t confine their efforts to the race course. Their nonprofit Hoyt Foundation was founded to help build self-confidence and self-esteem in disabled young people. They raised more than $1 million for Easter Seals and the Augmentative Communication Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. And they gave motivational speeches around the world and around the region.
And their dedication never waned. In recent weeks, Rick and his brother, Russ, had been making the rounds to tout their newest road race, the first-ever “Dick Hoyt Memorial ‘Yes You Can’ Run Together.”
“What we decided is that it was going to be a five-mile race because that’s the distance of the first race Rick and dad ever ran together,” Russ Hoyt said. “We also wanted it to be an inclusive event so we’re also having a two-mile walk so that everyone can be included, both runners and walkers.”
The race will be held this Saturday in Hopkinton. Forty-six years after that first 5-miler, the Hoyts’ legacy and influence carries on.
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