Dick Hoyt's "Why" - Running for Something Great than One's Self

Preface: this story was conducted via telephone interview on August 14th, 2013.  I tried my best to type word-for-word to assure authenticity of the story that is Team Hoyt.  Some interesting facts at the time of the interview shared by Dick: he was 73 years young, he and Rick have competed together in 1101 events with a personal best 2:40:49 in the Marine Corp Marathon, winning his age group by 20 minutes.  Dick and Rick were inducted into the Marine Corp Hall of Fame in October 2013.  Finally, to better interpret this story as you read, imagine the voice of a wise, experienced runner with a beautiful Boston accent.

Judy and I married in 1961.  When we first started running and doing triathlons it was more for my son, Rick.  He attended a basketball game with his gym teacher at the local college where he learned that a student at the college was going to run a race for another student who was in an accident - a fundraiser.  When he came home from the game he asked me if we could run in the race.  I wasn’t really active prior to Rick, not until I was 40.  He was 15 when he asked if we could run.  At the time I ran just enough to maintain health and keep my weight down.  The wheelchair we had at the time was anything but a wheelchair for running.  I had a hard time pushing the wheelchair through the five-mile race, but the gun went off, and we finished.  We finished next to last.  The gym teacher's wife took a picture of us in that race (above).

I wouldn't run in a race without him.  I'm running for him.  He got me into it.  I would never run without him.  Rick communicates with a computer by using a head switch and that night, after the race, Rick said to me, he says, "When we run it feels like my disability disappears.  I'm a free bird."  That's his favorite song, in fact, Free Bird (by Lynyrd Skynyrd).

We initially got a lot of resistance trying to enter these races, with a lot of people telling us “No, you can't run in these races.”  But there's no such word as "No" or "Can't" in my world.  Rick has a personality, a sense of humor, a big smile on his face.  We kept entering these races.  Initially Boston turned us down, turned down the first female, too, saying “You’re different than anyone else.  You're different."  Then in 1981 they said, "You can line up behind the wheelchair participants and run."  We ran 3:18 for our first Boston, finishing in front of 85% of the rest of the field. 

1982 and 1983 was more of the same: unofficial and in the back of the pack.  In 1983 I asked Will Cloney, head of the Boston Athletic Association, if we could run, and he said we didn’t have any qualifying criterion because they were using Rick’s age to qualify us.  They were thinking there was no way a 40-year-old man can push his son in a wheelchair in three hours and 20 minutes.  So we ran the Marine Corp marathon in 2:45:23 and we took our official ticket to the Boston Athletic Association.  We’ve been running Boston since, and in fact now they say “Team Hoyt, you guys are the marathon. It's not Bill Rodger’s, it’s the Hoyt’s!”

The 2013 Boston Marathon was supposed to be our last event, however due to the tragedy of the marathon, 2014 will be our last one, and no more Ironman's.  Right now I am having problems with my back, my discs, and hamstrings, so we'll be cutting back to 20-25 events per year, Olympic-size triathlons and down. 

I've been public speaking for a while now, and receiving emails from people all over the world of whose lives we've changed.  When people come to my speaking seminars, they come up to me at the end and say "I'm gonna hug my kids...I'm gonna go to the gym." It's really something that these people are doing these things because of Rick and I.  In fact, we’ve had a couple young ladies ready to commit suicide, who once they saw our seminar, they began running and it changed them forever.  Drug addicts, alcoholics, presidents, CEO’s, now running because of Rick and I.  They say, "If the two of them can do it, we can do it."  And now, these people are motivating us.  You see people now pushing their kids in wheelchairs like we do and its motivating us!