Like millions of others, I first learned about Dick and his son Rick via YouTube. Dick is a dad to three boys, now grown. But he is famous for his relationship with his first son, born in 1962 with cerebral palsy. Dick has run almost 1000 endurance events including marathons and the Ironman Triathlon pushing, pulling or cycling with his son. Stop for a minute and check out this amazing video:
You can see why we wanted to feature this amazing and inspirational father as our first Future Glimpse story. Our Future Glimpse articles will highlight interviews and essays from parents who have been where many of you are now. They will give you perspective and, we hope, encouragement. They will share what they have learned and what they want you to know.
Now, back to Dick Hoyt.
Although this was an era when children with severe disabilities like Rick’s were rarely seen in public, the family took him everywhere. Dick and Rick’s mom, Judy, strongly believed that not only did Rick deserve to be out in the world but that the world was lucky to have him and that part of building acceptance for their son and other children and adults like him was setting an example. When they added two more boys to the family, Rick’s life became even richer as his little brothers included him in their roughhousing and “boys will be boys” antics. Although Rick couldn’t speak, his family made sure he was an integral part of their family in all sorts of everyday ways. In his memoir, Devoted, Dick tells wonderful stories of the boys playing tricks on their parents by “hiding” Rick in a pile of leaves and of the way the three played street hockey, using Rick’s wheelchair as a hockey stick.
Letting kids be kids
In a recent phone interview, asked Dick how he was able to step out and take those chances when so many medical professionals were telling him to leave well enough alone. In today’s modern era where parenthood sometimes seems like a competitive sport for who can be the most on top of their kids, his response was refreshing and reassuring.
“Sometimes you got to learn by making mistakes and you can’t be afraid of making those mistakes,” Dick says in his strong Massachusetts accent. “I know it’s very difficult for a lot of parents to let their kids go out on their own but that’s the right way of bringing somebody up. You have to let them be children, that’s the big thing. Let them do things and let them do things you did as a child, too. They’re going to get in trouble and they’re going to make mistakes but that’s part of growing up.”
Dick and Judy were strong advocates for Rick, working hard to help other medical professionals and educators see the funny, bright and outgoing boy they knew Rick to be. After Judy taught Rick how to read, they searched for a communication device that would allow him to “speak” and finally found a customized computer system when he was eleven. Once Rick could talk, they fought for the right to send him to school. (To learn more about communication devices, check out this Freedom of Speech article from Children’s Hospital Boston!)
Keeping siblings close
All the work that went into caring for Rick sometimes made things difficult for the other boys.
“It was hard especially for Rob, our middle child,” remembers Dick. “He got very jealous that we had to spend so much time with Rick. There was even a time when he said that he wished he was Rick! I said, Rob, you can go out and play. You can take your own shower. You can brush your own teeth. You can feed yourself. It took him a while but he understood it eventually.”
Dick says that having their third son, Russell, made things easier but that the other thing that made a difference was letting the boys have their fun together and finding ways to include Rick in their rough and tumble, active lifestyle.
“The boys would take Rick outside and take him up into the tree hut!” Dick laughs. “Rick couldn’t play baseball but we’d hold a bat in his hands and he’d swing at the ball and we’d push him to the bases. We went cross country skiing. We went camping. We’d go fishing and put the line in Rick’s hands so he could feel the fish pull. We used to have a lot of fun as a family.”
Still learning to let go
The doctors told Dick and Judy that their son would always be a vegetable. But as Rick himself says (in this article), “To this day, I don’t know what kind of vegetable I’m supposed to be.” Because his parents knew and believed in his potential, Rick graduated from Boston University with a degree in special education. While he was at college he lived in the dorms and — like many young college students — he got into trouble spending too much time partying and not enough time on his studies. Letting Rick make his own way in the world wasn’t easy for his parents but they stuck by their resolve to let him figure things out.
“When he was attending college, a reporter asked him why it was so important to live independently. And Rick said, ‘If I can’t live independently I’d rather die.'”
His mom and dad stifled their worries but they remained on-call and were happy to drive into the city whenever Rick needed them.
“I was putting 70,000 miles a year on my car!” says Dick. “He liked the city and I’m a country boy but now he’s moved out here and he lives about six miles away from me. It’s a lot easier, too, that way I get to see him a lot more.”
Dick turns 70 today (Happy Birthday, Dick!!!) and Rick is 48 but they’re still racing and inspiring other people along the way. Instead of the clunky, old-fashioned wheelchair they used in their first race together, now they use a streamlined racer and state-of-the-art supplies. While they’re both pretty competitive guys, they were never in it for the glory and now they use their fame to help others, establishing The Hoyt Foundation to support:
- The development of a curriculum at Boston Children’s Museum, which teaches children what it is like to have a disability.
- Consultation to manufacturers on the development and construction of better equipment for people with disabilities.
- Donations made to Easter Seals of Massachusetts and other organizations; enabling disabled children to attend summer camp.
- Donations to therapeutic horseback riding organizations; enabling disabled individuals to take lessons.
- Donations of running chairs to groups that take disabled individuals for a run.
To learn more about Dick and Rick Hoyt and all of their many, many accomplishments, we hope that you will visit their website at TeamHoyt.com.
We hope that you are inspired by Dick’s belief that letting go can be some of the best (albeit sometimes the most scary) parenting you can do. We are giving away a copy of Dick’s terrific book, Devoted, to one lucky site member. Just leave a comment sharing your thoughts about Dick’s work and Rick’s successes. We’ll choose one commenter at random on Friday June 5th at 5pmPST (at the same time we choose our Chewelry chewies winner). Remember you must be registered at the site to be entered in our contests!
We want to thank Dick Hoyt for his permission to use the photos from his site in this article and for his encouragement about the site!
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