Sunday, March 24, 2013

Real Life Superheroes

If you run and/or do triathlons, you most probably have heard of Team Hoyt.

The first time I came across a video clip of Team Hoyt was about five years ago. I was very impressed to see a man running while pushing his grown son in a stroller, over seemingly a very long distance. In the ensuing years, I have come across other video clips of the Hoyts, but it wasn't until I read Dick Hoyt's book "Devoted," that I became fully immersed in this true story of love.

The book started by describing Dick Hoyt's childhood in the 1950s until his marriage with Judy (the Mom). The story really began on Rick's birth on 10 January 1962, whereupon he was tangled in his own umbilical cord, cutting off oxygen supply to the brain. This momentary (a matter of minutes!) incident led to irreparable damage to Rick's young brain.

Once it was quite clear that Rick would not be a normal baby, Dick was quoted in the book as saying:
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but this was my boy... I was determined to be the best father I could, regardless of whether he had a disability."
There were suggestions to put Rick in a home-for-the-disabled. There were fights. There were, well, thousands of questions and perhaps even more challenges to be faced. Ultimately, Dick Hoyt stuck with his decision to provide a real home, and be a real father to Rick, in the truest sense of the word.

In 1977, Rick became aware about a charity 5-mile running event to benefit a paralyzed lacrosse player. He asked Dad if they could participate together. Dick was 37 years old then, and he hadn't been keeping up on the personal physical fitness front. Having been touched by Rick's compassion for the paralyzed lacrosse player, they signed up and gutted it out. And just like that, Team Hoyt finished their first race together.

The Hoyts' inspiration to keep going: they didn't come in last in their first race together, against individual runners (they came in second to last)! To seal the deal, Dick only needed to hear these words from Rick (who was then 15 years old):
“Dad, when we're running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.“

What happened next was the stuff of legends.

From 1977 till April 2012, Team Hoyt has competed in 1,077 (one thousand seventy seven) endurance events, including:
  • 247 Triathlons (including 7 Iron Mans)
  • 70 Marathons (including 30 Boston Marathons)

The Iron Man is the ultimate test of endurance. Within a 17 hour cut-off, participant has to swim 2.4 miles (3.9 km), bike 112 miles (180 km), and run a full marathon to seal the deal (26.2 miles / 42.2 km).

Team Hoyt's PB (Personal Best) for the Marathon = 2 hours 40 minutes (!), and, for the Iron Man = 13 hours 43 minutes (!).

All the above was achieved with Dick having to swim while pulling an inflatable boat with Rick in it, biking with Rick in a special seat attached to the front of the bike, and running while pushing Rick in a custom stroller.

Stuff of legends? Indeed.

In endurance events, so many things can go wrong, yet we know there's one person that you can count on, to reach the finish line = yourself. The story of the Hoyts is refreshingly different, because they prove that two bodies, i.e. two souls, can indeed be deeply linked to each other, providing an almost mysterious, and mutual, energy that can smash through the thickest of walls. Just as Rick depends on his father to lend him the athletic 'tools,' he is also sending out precious energy to keep Dick physically and mentally strong.

And yet, for all the sporting milestones that the Hoyts achieved together, it was this non-athletic moment in the book that brought tears to my eyes:

"On May 16, 1993, Rick and I found ourselves at a packed Nickerson Field. The rest of the family was there as well, Rick's brothers, several of my siblings, Judy, and over five thousand student participants. It was a beautiful spring day, and the air was filled with anticipation. Reporters swarmed and cameras flashed. The rumbling crowd finally quieted as a man made his way across a small stage to a podium to deliver his welcoming remarks. This wasn't the start of another race; it was the end of one. Nine years in the making, it was a challenge Rick had faced and conquered all by himself. This was Boston University's one hundred twentieth commencement ceremony, and my eldest son was graduating with a degree in special education. That day in 1993, at the age of thirty-one, Rick became the first nonspeaking quadriplegic to ever graduate from the School of Education at Boston University.  ...And he graduated with a B average. He had accomplished this amazing achievement all on his own, without any favors or special treatment. I could not have been prouder on that day. It was by far one of the best days of my life."

I am at a loss for words, to describe this super achievement of Team Hoyt. As father to an autistic son, I am well aware of the rewards, and challenges, of having a special-needs child in a family. I believe most parents' ultimate goal is to raise each child that will mature to be a fully independent adult, one that is as strong and balanced spiritually-intellectually-socially-physically, as he/she can be.

Because of Dick's devotion to, and subsequent actions for, his son, Rick obtained self-confidence that ultimately led to earning his own independence. Rick Hoyt, a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, graduated from Boston University at the age of 31. Rick got a job thereafter and he is currently staying at his own apartment (with scheduled visits). I believe parents of special-needs children can relate to the level of preciousness, and rarity, of such an achievement.

If you think life is difficult, or if you think you have been handed an unfair card in this game of life, take comfort that superheroes do exist in real life. Take a moment to immerse yourself in the story of Team Hoyt.

Let's conclude with the Hoyts' motto, which is as simple as it is powerful:
"Yes You CAN."

NOTE: photos/video links are from Google/YouTube, please contact me if any/all need to be removed. Thank you

No comments:

Post a Comment