I had an individual that I am coaching ask me yesterday “What inspired you to change how you approach life?” I said, it is a little bit of a long story, are you sure you want to year it. She said yes, so I said, let me tell you a little story then. It is long but it is such a good story. Well worth the time.
“It’s an early fall morning in 2003 on the Big Island of Hawaii and you can feel the excitement in the air as athletes from all over the world gather for the registration of the 25th Ironman Triathlon race. If you are new to the Ironman event, is known for being one of the most grueling tests of endurance on the planet. Some of the top Triathlon Athletes in the world are here to test themselves against a course consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km)bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. It is a tremendous challenge for even the most accomplished athletes here.
One father and son team showed up at the starting line as they had done a couple of times before. They are not here to win, they don’t care about the finisher medal, and their story is unlike anyone else’s at the event. They are Dick and Ricky Hoyt, better known as Team Hoyt. Everyone at this Ironman event knows these two amazing men and their remarkable story. Dick is 63 years old and Ricky is 41. For Dick, competing in a race that has broken much younger athletes is a feat in itself. However, when you factor in that today Dick will be pulling his son in a 5-foot-long rubber inflatable dingy with a tow line attached to a belt around his waist for the swim stage of the race, carrying his son on the front of his specially built bike during the biking 112 mile biking stage of the race, and pushing Ricky the final 26.22 miles in a wheelchair for the last stage of the event, this challenge seems impossible, or at least improbable.
Dick and Ricky take the course with the energy of the crowds behind them. They enter the water and complete the swim stage of the race with no issues before they move on to the grueling bike stage. What happened next could have ended in disaster. During this stage, their bike crashed. Instead of crossing the finish line together as they had envisioned early this morning, they spent the next five hours in the hospital with Ricky getting stitches on his face and Dick being treated for road rash. Even though that was the end of their chances for today, they would not let the agony of defeat dampen their competitive spirit. They would return to Hawaii and in a very big way.”
I heard this story of Team Hoyt in October of 2012 when I was preparing to run a 5k race that someone had roped me into doing on their behalf. I was minding my own business when a co-worker stopped by my office and said he had a last-minute business trip and he needed me to do him a favor. He was registered to compete in a 5k run with a few friends who were new to running and didn’t want to leave them to race alone so he asked me to take his spot. I wasn’t new to running but it wasn’t my thing. I had competed in a few races over the years but I hadn’t put on a pair of running shoes for over a year. I worked out regularly but with little to no cardio. I’m highly competitive (and a little stubborn) so I thought to myself that it was only a 5K so I could manage.
I only had a couple weeks to train before the race so I went to Youtube in search of the best, last-minute training tips for a 5K run. I felt any help I could get at this point couldn’t hurt. As I went through the search results, I kept seeing a link for the same Ironman-related video pop-up entitled “Dick and Rick Hoyt”. As it does so often, my ADHD kicked in (maybe some of you can empathize) and I clicked on the video and never went back to my original search. I read somewhere once that life-changing events are rare. I am not sure if that is true but this video was certainly a life-changing event for me.
As I watched this video for a few minutes, I quickly realized that this wasn’t a “how to” video for training for a race or even a story about two amazing athletes. Team Hoyt was a love story between a father and his son, which just happened to drive some of the most incredible series of athletic accomplishments I have ever heard about. The video begins with Dick explaining that when Rick was born on January 10, 1962, they knew something was wrong but weren’t exactly sure what it was. Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy as a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain at the time of his birth. As a result, his brain cannot send the correct messages to his muscles.
Dick explains that he and his wife Judy were advised by their doctor to “forget Rick” and put him into an institution. According to the doctor, Rick was going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life with no chance of recovering and little hope for living a “normal” life. Dick says they cried a little bit, talked, and then agreed that they were going to bring Rick home and bring him up like any other child.
As I started to research the story of Team Hoyt and began to learn so much more about this remarkable family, it touched my heart like no other. After bringing Rick home from the hospital, the Hoyts took Rick every week to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where they met a doctor who encouraged them to treat Rick like any other child. Rick's mother, Judy, spent hours each day teaching Rick the alphabet and posting signs on every object in the house. Despite what the doctor told them when he was born and despite his severe disabilities, Rick not only learned the alphabet but went on to graduate from public high school and then followed that up with a degree in Special Education from Boston University in 1993. This would be an amazing end to the story but for Team Hoyt, it is just the beginning.
When Rick was in school during the spring of 1977, Rick asked his father if they could run in a race together to benefit a lacrosse player at his school who became paralyzed in an accident. However, there was a problem. Dick was not a runner. He was a 36-year-old couch potato who was just months removed from a heart attack but he did have one big thing going for him, he was an amazing father who had already proved that he would do anything for his son. Reluctantly, he agreed to push his son's wheelchair the full five miles of the race.
After their first race Rick said, "Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped." This was the beginning of Team Hoyt. After their initial five-mile run, Dick began running every day with a bag of cement in the wheelchair when Rick was at school or studying. Over the next three and a half decades, the pair set, achieved, and surpassed not only their own goals, but also everyone's expectations of what a father and son who was quadriplegic with cerebral palsy could possibly accomplish.
Not only did Team Hoyt come back in 2004, after their crash in 2003, to compete and finish the 26th Annual Ironman Triathlon, they went on to become two of the most impressive endurance athletes of all time. As of March 2016, Team Hoyt had competed in 1,130 endurance events, including 32 Boston Marathons, 40 other Marathons, 22 Duathlons, 97 Half Marathons, 6 Ironman Triathlons, and countless other race events. Team Hoyt also biked and ran across the U.S. in 1992, completing a full 3,735 miles (6,011 km) in 45 days.
This love story between a father and son completely changed my opinion of what I thought was possible in life and from that moment on I started on my own journey to live with no excuses.
I hope that after hearing the story of Team Hoyt, you too will be inspired to do something hard with the faith that it will lead you down roads you never thought possible.