The Sheraton Hotel in Boston is packed with runners and everywhere you look people are wearing yellow shoes. One runner, however, stands above the crowd, or somehow stands apart—even though he’s as humble and salt of the earth as anyone you’ll meet. Dick Hoyt, 77, is from Holland, Massachusetts and he pushed his son Rick in the Boston Marathon thirty-two times. Tomorrow, Rick, now 55, will be pushed by another member of Team Hoyt. Together, they’ve raised a million-dollars for Easter Seals. (Rick graduated from college and has his own apartment even though, when he was born, his parents were told to give him up, that he’d never be more than a “vegetable.”)
Meeting back up at the Sheraton, where the Hoyts were taken in 2013—when they were stopped on their last Boston one mile before the bombs exploded—Dick Hoyt told iRun about his life, about his plans, about his son, about Boston, and helped reinforce the true meaning of Boston Strong.
iRun: I know you just had back surgery and Brian from Team Hoyt will be pushing Rick tomorrow. But how do you feel? Will you return?
Hoyt: It’s the fourth Boston tomorrow for Brian with Rick and I’ve had some back problems and haven’t been able to run it. Two weeks before Christmas I had back surgery. But I’m feeling good. I’m feeling strong. I hope to be back next year.
iRun: Everything you’ve done has been incredible. But I can’t believe you took Rick in a boat in the water for 270 triathlons. That doesn’t even seem possible. How?
Hoyt: Rick and I were running and Dave, the Boston Marathon race director, said I looked like a triathlete. I don’t know how to swim, but I said, OK. I like Dave. I’ll give it a try. And I’ll never forget the first time I jumped in the lake, I sunk. I couldn’t swim. But that winter I joined the YMCA and I did it in Bedford, Massachusetts. The swim wasn’t too bad, I was surprised. I went out there and didn’t use my legs at all, it was all upper body.
iRun: What characteristics have defined your life?
Hoyt: It all comes down to when Rick asked me to run in that very first race. Rick was at school and a teacher gave a talk about a lacrosse player that was in an accident, he was paralyzed. And there was going to be a road race to raise money. Rick said, ‘Dad, I have to do something for him. I have to show him that life goes on. I want to run in the race.’ At the time, I wasn’t a runner. Rick was 18.
iRun: He wanted to help someone else?
Hoyt: Yeah, and everybody thought we’d go to the corner and turn around and come back, but we didn’t. We finished the whole thing and everyone thought we’d come in last, but we didn’t. We came in next to last. We’ve never been last in a race.
iRun: Running appealed to you? Appealed to Rick?
Hoyt: When we got home that night, he wrote on his computer: ‘Dad, when I’m running, it feels like my disability disappears.’
Hoyt: It was a very powerful message to me. Somebody in a wheelchair can’t talk, can’t use his arms or legs, and now he’s running? He called himself “Freebird,” because now he was able to compete and run with everyone else.
iRun: The idea of going from victim and powerless to reframing it, I am powerful. I am free. It’s incredibly moving.
Hoyt: Because of him I made myself stronger. Our message is: Yes, You Can. There isn’t anything you can’t do. There’s no such word as no. And that’s what Rick and I have lived by.
Hoyt: When Rick was born they said ‘Forget Rick, put him away. He’s going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life.’ My wife and I, she was 19 and I was 20, we said, ‘No.’ We’re not going to put him away. We’re going to bring him up like any other child. And that’s what we’ve done.
iRun: Was that a tough choice?
Hoyt: Never a question. He was my son.
iRun: And then he graduated from Boston University.
Hoyt: I think the hardest day of my life was driving him in and leaving him in the city of Boston with people we hardly knew. It took him nine years but he graduated, and he did it on his own.
iRun: What’s your relationship like after all these years?
Hoyt: I don’t think there’s any father-son that’s any closer.
iRun: The two of you biked across the United States?
Hoyt: That was in 1992. And we went to the Santa Monica Pier— 3,735 miles in 45 straight days without a day off. Everyone thought there’s no way he can go up the mountains in Denver, Colorado, but we finished in 45 days and arrived in Boston on Thursday night and Friday night, the Sox were playing, and we ran into Fenway Park and out to the Green Monster. We stayed and watched the game. The Red Sox won. And we got up the next morning, went to Vermont and did a triathlon.
iRun: Do you see yourself as extraordinary?
Hoyt: The only thing special about me is that I had a son like Rick. Rick made me. I’m from a family of ten. I don’t know there’s anything special about me. It’s Rick. He’s the one.