HOLLAND, Mass. – Dick Hoyt – one half of a father-and-son team immortalized near the start line for the Boston Marathon to inspire and involve athletes with disabilities – has died. He was 80 years old.
Hoyt died peacefully in his sleep Wednesday morning, one of his sons, Russ Hoyt, told the Associated Press. “He had an ongoing heart condition that he had struggled with for years and it just beat him,” said Russ Hoyt.
Russ and his other brother Rob broke the news to Rick Hoyt, their father’s running partner for more than three decades. “He’s sad like all of us, but he’s fine,” said Russ Hoyt. “You could see it in him, it was as if someone had hit him.”
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The father-son duo’s legacy began in Westfield in 1977 after Rick Hoyt, who has spastic tetraplegia and cerebral palsy, told his father, then a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Regional Airport, that he wanted to participate in one Five mile run for the benefit of a lacrosse player who was paralyzed in an accident.
Most people thought they’d run to the end of the street and turn around because Rick at the time had what was called a Mulholland wheelchair with wheels that resembled a shopping cart, Russ Hoyt recalled The Republican. But they didn’t. They ran the entire five miles and were second to last. In fact, the duo never finished last in their entire athletic career.
“When Rick got home that night, he wrote on his computer, ‘Dad, when I run I feel like I’m not even disabled. ‘And just to be there and see that and then see how it grows into what it’s become … it’s just amazing, “said Russ Hoyt. “When they first ran the Boston Marathon, they weren’t given numbers because they didn’t have a category. They weren’t runners or wheelchair users so they didn’t know what to do. “
To qualify for a number for the Boston Marathon, Dick, then 40, had to qualify under Rick’s age. So they took part in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, and recorded a time from two to hours and 41 minutes. A special wheelchair was made for this particular race, which Russ Hoyt compared to a jogger-style stroller that would fit Rick’s frame.
Just a year ago, father and son were inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. This recognized that they had completed 257 triathlons around the world, some of them in the Ironman category. In response to the elder Hoyt’s death, the Hall of Fame Organization said, “The push-assist duo of Dick and Rick Hoyt has inspired athletes around the world and shown us what is really possible with hard work, dedication and teamwork . Dick’s legacy will last forever through the life he changed and the barriers he broke.
The team made history as the first duo to complete the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 1989. Using a rubber dinghy attached to a bungee pulled by Dick, a bicycle with a handlebar seat for Rick, and a custom jogger for Rick to sit in, the Hoyts finished the grueling 140.6-mile triathlon in 14: 26:04, changed the face of sporting events and redefined what is possible.
In total, the Hoyts have completed more than 1,200 endurance races, and the Team Hoyt Foundation they created has delivered the message, “Yes, you can” to people with disabilities and the community as a whole. The foundation’s Facebook page was inundated this week with tributes from mothers, fathers and parasports from around the world. Pawel Jach, a Polish father, wrote: “Thank you for inspiring me, Dick.”
“I never thought it would be like this,” Dick Hoyt told The Republican in 2018 as he pondered the story of Team Hoyt that kept him busy as a motivational speaker. “It’s just amazing. It all started here (in West Massachusetts) when we were Team Hoyt. Today we have Team Hoyt chapters all over New England, the US and Canada. It’s amazing how big it gets.”
Across the region, those familiar with the Hoyts and their history spoke of father and son devotion to their positive message.
“Dick Hoyt was not just a friend, he was an inspiration to anyone lucky enough to meet him or to those who were aware of his remarkable life story,” said US Representative Richard E. Neal, D- Springfield. “As a fellow traveler, I am proud to say that you have been welcome participants in the SIDS Road Race in Springfield for more than 20 years. It was a pleasure to see them run together because they really were the personification of the word courage. “
“Dick embodied what it is to be a Boston marathon runner and has shown determination, passion, and love every Patriot’s Day for more than three decades,” said the Boston Athletic Association in a tribute. “In addition to being a fan favorite who inspired thousands, he was also a loyal friend and father who took pride in hanging out with his son Rick as he ran from Hopkinton to Boston. The couple’s bond and presence throughout the course became synonymous with the Boston Marathon. Team Hoyt’s 1000th joint race took place at the 2009 Boston Marathon. In 2015, Dick served as Grand Marshal of the race to recognize his impact on the event and the para-athlete community. “
State Adjutant General Gary Keefe of Northampton, who has known the Hoyt family since his youth, said: “When I think of devotion, I think of Dick and Rick Hoyt and the love Dick Hoyt had for his son. He wanted his son to experience life like any other child. “Keefe recalled how he and his brothers often interacted with the Hoyt brothers, including Rob and Russ, at family gatherings at the Air Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, where Keefe’s father served for decades.
A former commander of the 104th and former state commander of the Air Force, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Platt, added, “Dick was a real trailblazer … When he and Rick first teamed up, no one paid much attention to the challenges faced by disabled people. He and Rick changed that by not only putting these challenges in the spotlight, but also by giving a lot of people real inspiration and hope. We have all benefited from his foresight and determination. “
“The Hoyt story, which has become a worldwide inspiration, had really humble beginnings in Westfield so many years ago. It was about a father and mother who worked hard for their son and both worked tirelessly to ensure that Rick Hoyt led a rich and fulfilling life. Of all the roles that have known him for as long as I have, Dick would say that ‘Father’ was his most important, ”said Cynthia G. Simison, editor-in-chief of The Republican. “Dick did the job with Rick’s late mother, Judy Yeoman, to deliver the inclusive message, and ‘Yes, You Can’ was loud and clear to young people of all abilities.”
Dick Hoyt had a career in the military for more than 30 years before retiring in 1995 to continue the full-time employment of the Hoyt team. One of his retired colleagues, Lt. Col. William G. Sheehan of Wilbraham, recalled meeting Hoyt for the first time on a mission to Mississippi in the 1970s and learning of Rick’s disabilities. The two became good friends and were more recently part of a group of 104 retirees, the Not Over the Hill Yet Gang, who met quarterly, including a summer visit to Hoyt’s lake house in Holland. “He’s kept me up to date on Rick over the years,” Sheehan said. “I will always treasure Dick for his commitment to his son and the burden he carried so well.”
Dave McGillvray, US Triathlon Hall of Fame member and longtime race director of the Boston Marathon, remembered meeting the Hoyts at the Falmouth Road Race. “I looked at her confused. What’s this? Someone actually pushing another person into a wheelchair? I’d never seen that before, ”said McGillvray. “I waited for them at the finish line because I just had to find out who they are and what it was about. This started a 40-year relationship and friendship between us. “
McGillvray said he believes Team Hoyt changed the world with his athletic career, noting the presence of team chapters around the world.
Robert and Henriëtte Brethouwer traveled 3,000 miles from Aalten, a small village in the Netherlands, to Massachusetts eight years ago with their son Noah to take part in the Holland Elementary School’s annual Run-Walk road race with Team Hoyt. Noah has a syndrome called Caudal Regression Syndrome, was born blind, deaf and unable to speak, and was paralyzed from the waist down.
“When Noah was born, the doctors did not believe that he should lead a good and long life. After months of fighting, we turned on our television. Right in our darkest moment, we saw Dick running with Rick. We’ll never forget this picture, ”said Henriëtte Brethouwer. “(It was a) promise for a bright and wonderful future. We were comforted to see these two men. After that we never doubted Noah’s future. “
The Holland 5K continues to thrive and a racing team was formed in elementary school. Bettina Schmidt, chairwoman of the Holland Select Board, said that many students even took part to push other students in the annual race. “(Dick Hoyt’s) was an inspiration to everyone, that everything can be overcome. He will be missed very much, ”said Schmidt.
In 2013, the Hoyts received ESPY’s “Jimmy V Award for Perseverance”. “Even though so many people have told us we don’t belong, here we are,” Rick Hoyt told the audience at the event. “We’re even more excited because the motto of Team Hoyt, who has inspired thousands of people around the world to improve through athletics and not to tolerate being denied access to life for people with disabilities, is :, Yes you can. ‘”
John Young, a 55-year-old teacher from Salem, said he found inspiration in Team Hoyt’s message. Young was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.
“I can’t count how many races I’ve raced with Team Hoyt each year since 2013, including but not limited to the Boston Marathon,” said Young. ‘Yes you can!’ Dick and Rick have inspired countless people to test and push their own limits. “
Bill Rodgers, an Olympic gold medalist known for his triumph at the Boston Marathon three years in a row, knew Dick Hoyt as both an athlete and a friend. “Pushing Rick over the Boston hills 26 miles in any weather Boston gets is not on the charts,” Rodgers said. “It sounds trite to say, but we will miss him because he was such a big part of Boston and the marathon. It won’t be the same. You can call him a true champion. “
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