Dick Hoyt passed away at age 80 on March 18, but I suspect his story will endure, perhaps forever. Because Dick Hoyt is the man who turned pain into power by competing in more than 40 marathons with his son Rick, a quadriplegic whom he pushed in a wheelchair in every one of those marathons.
Did he do it for fame? No. Did he do it to deny the reality that his son had been born quadriplegic, with cerebral palsy? No. He did it because running made his son feel free of the confines of his body. He did it because he was inextricably and forever connected to his son—yes, to his son’s suffering, but also to the miraculous feats they achieved together. Miraculous. Inexplicable. Beautiful. Inspiring.
The Hoyts first competed in a five-mile race four decades ago. By 1992, they completed a marathon in Washington in 2 hours 40 minutes, taking first place in Dick Hoyt’s age bracket—even though none of the other runners were pushing anyone else in a wheelchair.
Maybe Dick Hoyt could have outdistanced the competition by a lot more if he weren’t pushing his son in front of him, but he didn’t see it that way—at all. Because Dick Hoyt was all about turning his pain into power. He believed that his son made him faster. “I think it’s actually just something that comes from his body to my body and it makes us go faster,” he said. “He’s actually the athlete.”
He’s actually the athlete. Think about Dick Hoyt uttering those words—as a man, as an athlete, but mostly as a father. If you do nothing else today, please think about those words. They just brought me to tears. Let yourself be stunned by them, humbled by them, emboldened by them.
I don’t doubt what Dick Hoyt said for one second. Why should any of us believe that strength and courage cannot be passed from one of us to another, especially when an immeasurable thing like love is the catalyst? Why should we doubt for one second that the will to win is so deeply-seated in Rick Hoyt that it kindled the will to win in his father? Why should we doubt that the two men, together, had the power of many more than two men, because 1 plus 1 can equal 11 when the human soul is set free?
Mind you, Dick and Rick Hoyt ran a 2:40 Boston Marathon, arguably the greatest feat in the history of running.
Who has made you go faster or further in life? Who have you given that gift to? Who could you, starting today?
The Hoyts didn’t just run together, either. They competed in six Ironman triathlons, too. Dick learned to swim so he could pull his son on a dinghy through the leg of the races that required swimming.
Rick met other challenges. He graduated from college and moved out to live on his own. He’s his father’s son.
I don’t know the neurophysiologic or anatomic realities of how any of what Dick and Rick Hoyt achieved together was possible. I don’t. I have no idea and, frankly, I have no interest. None. I believe the strength of spirit they represent is immeasurable. That’s what makes their story stunningly beautiful, an inspiration and evidence of the existence of a Higher Power which could give us all a way to rise above our pain.
Dr. Keith Ablow
*Thank you to Keith Duggan for his remarkable writing about the Hoyts, upon which I relied, in part, to write this blog.
Image credit: Dick and Rick Hoyt (Elsa/Getty Images)