Team Hoyt Shares Hope

'Yes You Can,' Says Team Hoyt

09.09.13 | By Preet Bilinski

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Team Hoyt, a father and son team, that have run over 1,000 endurance races together. Team Hoyt has been inducted into the Ironman Hall of fame,  honored with a life size bronze statue of their likeness by the start of the Boston marathon, and presented with the Jimmy V perseverance award. What's different about this team is that during competitions, Dick pulls his son, Rick, in a boat as they swim, carries him in a seat in the front of a bicycle as they ride and pushes him in a wheelchair as they run. 

When Rick Hoyt was born the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, reducing the amount of oxygen to his brain, resulting in cerebral palsy. Doctors told Dick and his wife, Judy, to institutionalize Rick and forget about him; he would be a vegetable. Instead, Dick and Judy raised their son just like any other child. They took Rick swimming and hiking with the family and he played baseball and hockey with his brothers.  Communication was another obstacle for the Hoyts to overcome. For Rick's early years, he communicated with his family through smiles and nods.  When he was 12, a special interactive computer was built for him, but first Rick had to show that he would be able to utilize the computer. Dick asked the engineers building the computer to tell Rick a joke to see if he would get it, and sure enough, Rick roared with laughter at the punch line. Once Rick was able to communicate through his computer, one might have thought his first word would be '”Mom” or “Dad."  Once again, Rick surprised everyone with his first words, "Go Bruins!" The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals at the time; Rick followed the game just like any other Bruins fan. 

That was just the beginning of Rick's journey. His parents fought to have the education system open their doors to him and others with disabilities. Thanks to their persistence and advocacy, Rick went on to graduate high school, which was a fete.  But rather than stopping there, he wanted to continue to college. And he wanted to face this challenge alone. It was hard for his family to let him go, but it was important to Rick to live independently.  When Rick graduated from the School of Education at Boston University, he became the first nonspeaking, quadriplegic student to do so. He accomplished this amazing achievement all on his own, without favors or special treatment. 

When these two began racing over 30 years ago, they couldn’t have known what an inspiration they would become for so many. For Dick Hoyt, his inspiration remains his son.  “Every day I consider myself lucky to be his father and teammate,” says Dick. And they remain hopeful that the future is brighter for those following in their footsteps, as well as those that are blazing their own path.

Having been born with cerebral palsy, Rick has come to terms with being nonverbal. However, when asked what he hopes for from researchers, he says he would like a medication that gives him his voice. Without ever speaking a word, Rick Hoyt has said so much. He has sent the message loud and clear that everyone can set a goal and they can reach it, as long as they never give up.

In recent years there have been a number of advances in understanding the factors in the development of cerebral palsy. Although neurological disorders are complex, our scientific understanding of the disease grows, and researchers are able to pursue new approaches to halt or slow the disease, as our latest Medicines in Development for Neurological Disorders report explains. Similar to parents, scientists have to turn negatives into positives, remove barriers, and make the impossible possible. Sometimes it's an extraordinary effort, one that takes determination, persistence, fortitude and devotion. Luckily, it's something that parents and scientists tend to have in spades.  

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