Team Hoyt: Portrait of True Role Models
Disabled Dealer Magazine March 2013
By David Block
(Reader’s note: Rick Hoyt’s quotes were said through two of his personal care attendants, Jessica Gauthier and Melissa Trinidad.)
Rick Hoyt’s accomplishments are so numerous that to list all of them would make Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace look like a short story. His triumphs include participating in 70 26.2 mile marathons, 30 of which were the prestigious Boston Marathon. He competed in 248 triathlons. As of June 2012, he took part in 1080 athletic competitions. These accomplishments are quite noteworthy. More impressive is that Rick Hoyt is a spastic quadriplegic with Cerebral Palsy, unable to speak.
The 50-year-old Hoyt of Sturbridge, Massachusetts is not angry or bitter. Rick Hoyt explained: “My mother taught me it was okay to get upset but not to get angry or bitter. When something is troubling me, I talk with a person whom I trust so I don’t build up any negative feelings. I am a thankful person, I have lived a very fulfilling life. I believe I make a difference, I have shown disabled people they do not have to sit back, and watch the world go by. I have achieved many accomplishment including graduating from college (Boston University 1993). How could I be bitter?”
At birth, the umbilical cord strangled him. The loss of oxygen left him severely disabled.
The doctors thought that Rick would be nothing more than a vegetable, so “out of the goodness of their hearts,” they urged Rick’s parents, Dick and Judy Hoyt, to have him put away. The thought of institutionalizing their son, the mere idea of disowning him for being born with these disabilities was unfathomable and downright inhumane.
Dick and Judy Hoyt soon realized that the doctors were dead wrong.
“When Rick got his eyes opened, they were following mine and my wife’s,” said Dick Hoyt. “He was looking at us. His eyes were unbelievable. If you talked or made noises, he reacted. He paid attention.”
Rick was Dick and Judy’s first child. They had two more boys, Robert and Russell. They are fully able bodied. Dick and Judy treated Rick just like Robert and Russell. For example, when Rick’s brothers played hockey in the neighborhood, Rick was included. Dick Hoyt remembered: “We took him on the ice in his wheelchair and we’d push him around. We put a hockey stick on his chair. We used to skate around with him, so he could use the puck and not play goalie all the time.” He added that the neighborhood children included Rick in a lot of activities. “They treated him like everyone else because they saw that we did.”
The Hoyts had high expectations of Rick and saw no reason why he should miss out on public school. In the ‘70s, Dick and Judy fought hard to get Rick into public school, and they finally succeeded.
“I knew about that long before I met Rick,” said Todd Civin, who co-authored Rick Hoyt’s 2012 autobiography, One Letter at a Time. “In eighth grade, I wrote a term paper on chapter 766 in Massachusetts, which gave disabled children the right to attend public schools (in Massachusetts). Rick’s mother played a key role in getting Chapter 766 passed.”
Rick’s Famous First Words
In the early ‘70s, the Hoyts asked some engineers at Tufts University if they could build a machine that would help Rick communicate. At first, the engineers thought that it would be a waste of time because they assumed that he could not understand people.
“We told them to tell Rick a joke,” said Dick Hoyt. “They did and Rick cracked up laughing. They said ‘maybe there is something there. If you raise five thousand dollars, we’ll build a communicating device for Rick.’ We raised the money.”
The Tuft engineers built an interactive computer that allowed Rick to write out his thoughts using the slight head-movements that he could manage. A cursor would move across a screen filled with rows of letters, and when the cursor highlighted a letter that Rick wanted, he would click a switch with the side of his head.
Rick’s first words were not ‘hi Mom, hi Dad, Thank you, I love you’. They were ‘Go Bruins!’ It turned out that Rick was a big Boston Bruin fan, just like his brothers.
According to Civin, People soon learned that despite Rick’s disabilities, he also had a wicked sense of humor. He still does today. One time, Rick’s brothers placed him on a hotel floor and removed his wheelchair. Rick pretended to be drunk. A few minutes later, an intoxicated man got off the elevator and spotted Rick. Thinking Rick was too drunk to speak or stand, he frantically searched for security. Meanwhile, Rick’s brothers brought him into their hotel room. The man returned with security, but saw no one. The annoyed security staff sternly told that man that he was hallucinating and advised him to sober up.
“Humor is Rick’s way of connecting to the world,” said Civin. “He loves to laugh and he loves to play practical jokes on people.” One time Rick pretended to pass out, with the hope of that his beautiful personal care attendant (PCA) would give him mouth to mouth. When she learned Rick’s true motives, she was irate.
The Birth of Team Hoyt
In 1977, Rick, who was then 15, made an unselfish gesture, which would ultimately enhance his quality of life.
An area lacrosse athlete sustained a serious injury, compelling Rick’s local community organize a five-mile run to defray the medical costs. Rick told his overweight, out of shape father that he wanted to participate, and asked him to push him in the wheelchair. His father obliged.
Rick’s desire to help someone in need, a person far less disabled than himself, did not surprise his father. “We raised Rick to think of other people.”
After they finished the race, Rick wrote on his computer that it was the first time it felt as if his disabilities had disappeared.
“He can’t use his arms or legs. Then to say his disabilities disappeared, that’s powerful,” said Dick Hoyt.
Rick and his father entered a series of road races, and never felt discouraged. Even in the beginning – when they knew the race directors, the other runners and the wheelchair entrants didn’t want them competing – they pressed on. “They all snubbed us,” said Dick Hoyt, “but that didn’t matter. Every time we raced, Rick had a huge smile on his face, his arms were up in the air, he was so happy. He called himself free-bird, because he never felt so free before.”
Eventually, the officials and all the race entrants warmed up to Hoyt Team.
“They could see that Rick had quite a personality and a great sense of humor,” said Dick Hoyt.
The only people who objected were able-bodied people who had relatives with disabilities. “They used to call me and send me letters asking, ‘what are you doing dragging your disabled son through all these races? You’re looking for glory for yourself!’ They didn’t realize that Rick was dragging his father through all these races. I did these races because Rick wanted to. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been out there.”
Dick Hoyt said that thanks to Rick, he became physically fit. Dick’s good conditioning helped him survive a heart attack. “The doctors told me that if I were out of shape, I’d be a goner. Rick saved my life.”
For over 30 years, Team Hoyt competed in races, triathlons, etc.
No matter what events, fellow athletes tell them that they’ve been a true inspiration.
“As long as Rick and I keep having fun, we’re going to keep at it,” Dick Hoyt said. Rick added that neither he nor his father would participate without the other.
Rick said that he is the heart of Team Hoyt, and his father is the team’s arms and legs.
Four years ago, Civin befriended the Hoyt Family when he interviewed Dick for his blog.
Rick Hoyt asked Civin if he would collaborate on his autobiography.
“How could I say no?” Civin remembered. “It was an honor. Seeing how hard Rick has to work, even to communicate with people, one letter at a time, has taught me not to feel limited by my daily struggles.”
Rick explained why he wanted to write the book: “So much has been written about me. I decided to write a book and add the people who are close to me to write stories about me. I wanted people to see I am a person just like everyone else. I wanted people to realize that you don’t need to be scared to talk or approach myself or others with disabilities. It took me a long time to write this book, literally one letter at a time, which I hope inspires and encourages other to reach for there goals no matter how unattainable they may seem.”
Some people have mistreated and tried to take advantage of Rick. “It was very challenging for me to let others know because I live independently and I was worried I would not be able to,” said Rick Hoyt. “But no one ever has a right to mistreat anyone. If someone finds themselves in a predicament dealing with an unhealthy relationship, whether it is a PCA or a care taker, please confide in someone you can trust. If you have disabilities, that does not give someone the right to abuse you! There are many caring people that will help take care of you without mistreating you.”
To learn more about Rick Hoyt, you can order One Letter at a Time at www.civinmediarelations.com