Dick Hoyt, Who Ran Marathons Whereas Pushing His Son, Dies at 80

Dick Hoyt, who became a familiar sight pushing his son Rick in a wheelchair in road races across the country, particularly the Boston Marathon, died Wednesday at his home in Holland, Mass. He was 80 years old.

His death was announced by the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon. His son Russ said the cause was heart failure.

Rick Hoyt was born in 1962 as a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and could not control his limbs or speak. “We had long since learned to interpret our son’s smiles and nods,” wrote Dick Hoyt in his 2010 book “Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love for His Son”. “But as good as everyone in the family was figuring out what Rick needed, we’re still just making educated guesses.”

In 1972, engineers at Tufts University built a computer that Rick could communicate with by selecting letters with the tap of a finger. His first words were “Go Bruins” and showed a passionate love for sport.

In 1977, Rick asked to take part in a five-mile charity run. Although his father was not a competitive runner, he pushed Rick in his wheelchair the entire distance and was penultimate.

“When my father and I are on the run, we form a special bond,” Rick Hoyt told the New York Times in 2009 using his computer language program. “And it feels like there’s nothing Dad and I can’t do.”

While most associated with the Boston Marathon and becoming revered and inspiring personalities in the city, the two completed more than 1,000 races, many of them in surprisingly fast times.

Her fastest marathon time was the 1992 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington and Virginia: 2 hours 40 minutes 47 seconds. At the time, the older Hoyt was the first in the 50- to 59-year-old age group, despite his additional stress.

From 1980 to 2014, they ran the Boston Marathon almost every year. At first, they ran unofficially because officials refused to classify their hybrid entry as a runner or wheelchair user.

In 2013 they were stopped before the finish line because of the fatal bombing of the finish line. They expected this to be their last Boston marathon, but they returned in 2014 to finish the race successfully for the 32nd time.

They also competed in triathlons, including six in the grueling Ironman distance, where their best time was 13:43:37. Dick pulled Rick into a boat for the swimming legs and they rode a tandem bike for the bicycle segment. They cycled and ran across the country in 1992.

Using the computer he communicated with, Rick graduated from Boston University with a degree in special education in 1993.

Dick Hoyt was born on June 1, 1940 in Winchester, Massachusetts. His father Alfred worked as a used car dealer and his mother Anna (Jaworski) Hoyt was a housewife. Dick grew up in nearby North Reading and was the captain of the North Reading High School football team.

He married his high school lover Judy Leighton, the cheerleader, shortly after graduating in 1961. She founded Kamp for Kids, which enabled children with and without disabilities to go to camp together.

He served in the Army National Guard and Air National Guard for 37 years. After becoming known for his and his son’s mileage, he began a career as an inspirational speaker, delivering up to 100 speeches a year.

In addition to Rick and Russ, he survived another son, Rob; five sisters, Arlene, Alice, Barbara, Ruth, and Kathy; three brothers, Phillip, Herbie and Jason; five grandchildren; and a great grandson. His wife died in 2010.

After Dick Hoyt retired from running, Rick Hoyt continued to ride with Bryan Lyons, a dentist, who did the pushing. He died last June at the age of 50.

Rick Hoyt, now 59, was informed of his father’s death on Wednesday. “It was definitely difficult news for him,” Russ Hoyt told The Boston Globe.

In 2013, Dick and Rick Hoyt were honored with a bronze statue near the start line of the Boston Marathon. “Yes you can!” On the plaque next to the statue it says.

Alex Traub contributed to the coverage.

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