Exclusive Get Hungry - Stay Hungry interview: Dick Hoyt of Team Hoyt
(December 4, 2007)
GHSH: Today I'm on the phone with a truly amazing man, and it's really an honor for me to interview this guest. If you called him Superman or Super Dad, it wouldn't matter because either name would be a correct and well deserved title. This man is half of a dynamic athletic father and son team from Massachusetts that's basically unstoppable. The other half of this dynamic duo is his son Rick. What's amazing is that Dick, the father, pushes a wheelchair as he runs, pulls a boat behind him as he swims, and peddles a special designed
bike with a passenger seat mounted on the front of it for his son Rick, his co-pilot, because Rick is unable to use his arms, his legs, and he's unable to speak using his mouth. So, if you think that you or somebody you know has accomplished some amazing physical or personal feats, I'm sorry to tell you that you, me, and everybody and everything else pales in comparison and has to take a back seat to Dick and Rick Hoyt of Team Hoyt, because they're definitely in the driver's seat. Together these two men have completed almost 1000 events and accomplished so much in the way of personal and athletic achievements that it's almost hard to comprehend. It's truly an honor for me to introduce Mr. Dick Hoyt. How you doing today Dick?
DH: I'm doing great, how are you doing?
GHSH: I'm doing good, it's an honor to talk to you, it really is.
DH: Well thank you very much, it's nice to talk to you.
GHSH: I know you have a crazy schedule and I'd like to say thanks for taking the time for the interview. Before we get into Team Hoyt, I was hoping you could give us a background overview of you. What your childhood was like, where you grew up, your family, your work history. Basically everything before Team Hoyt - before Rick was born.
DH: I was one of ten and we lived in a little town north of Boston called North Reading. We were known as a very healthy family. We were 10 people and only had one bathroom and we had to eat in shifts, but we all got along together real well and had a great mother and father. I got very much involved with school activities. I actually had my first job when I was 9 years old. I used to bring the cows in from the pasture and milk the cows and shovel the stuff that comes out behind them. I can remember I used to get 10 cents a day plus a little bottle of milk, that was my pay. We were all a hard working family. Then when I was 12 years old I actually started working on a farm on my hands and knees for about 12 hours a day for about 50 cents an hour. So I always like to do things the hard way. I used to go out in the woods and chop down some dead trees to heat the house. I had a very close family of 5 boys and 5 girls and we got along very well. I did very well in school. I was an all "A" student up into the 6th grade and then I started playing sports. Then I started dating girls, and after that ... (laughing). Oh yeah, when I was 16 I also had made enough money so I had my car all bought and paid for and actually drove it to get my drivers license. Like I said, I started dating girls and haven't had any money since (laughing).
GHSH: Yeah, yeah, that's kind of the order that it goes in isn't it (both laughing).
DH: Another thing at school is I used to go in early in the morning and raise the flag and then take it down in the afternoon. Sometimes I would even help out the janitors at school sweep the floors after school. I was very hard working and I still like today to do things the hard way. I have an acre lot here, and I mow my lawn with a hand mower. When we get some snow I love to be out there shoveling snow. I just love to do things the hard way. Here, it's so fresh and beautiful you know. The school I went to there was only 50 kids in my class so it was very small. We only had 3 sports at the time - basketball, football, and baseball. I was captain of the baseball and football team, but I didn't play basketball. Our football team had 11 players on it so you had to play both ways and nobody could get injured (he laughs). Boy, it was a lot of fun you know. We used to go to the gym for Friday night dances and that's where I met Judy. That was in the 7th or 8th grade. I was a very shy kid, very bashful. If I knew answers to questions that teachers were asking I wouldn't raise my hand to answer. I was very scared to even talk in front of people. I remember Judy used to come over and pick on me at the dance. One night after when I was walking home she actually chased me home and through some briar bushes. We ended up dating and we were the class couple. We got married at a very young age, she was 19 and I was 20. Rick was born when I was 21 years old. We dated for 6 years before we got married and we were married for 33 years. We're divorced now, we've been divorced for 12 years.
Rick was the first son and he had all the problems with the umbilical cord being twisted around his neck and so he couldn't breathe for awhile there. He was in such a position it took an amount of minutes before the doctors could get in and untangle it. It caused a lack of oxygen to Rick's brain, which caused brain damage which is cerebral palsy. So we were a very young couple. We had the specialist check Rick out and the specialist came back and said "forget Rick, put him away, put him in an institution, he's going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life". On the way home from that appointment, Judy and I - we cried - but we talked and we said we're going to bring Rick home and bring him up like any other child. This is what we've done. Rick's been mainstream and included in everything all of his life. Rick's 45 years old, he can't talk, he can't use his arms or his legs, but he's graduated from public high school, he's graduated from Boston University, he lives all by himself in his own apartment. Rick and I have competed in 959 athletic events in the past 27 years. And we also have two other boys, Rob is the middle child, and Russell, he's the youngest one. They are very healthy and very supportive of Rick and everything that we've done. When they first started going to school they would come home and say "how come there's not children like Rick going to our school?" So that's about it for my youth, up until I got married.
GHSH: Well, when you were growing up, we all kind of had some crazy ideas about we want to be - this or that. Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to be or where you wanted to be when you grew up?
DH: What happened was I started playing sports and dating girls and I didn't really prepare myself for a college education, which is the biggest mistake I've ever made. Right now, what I do instead of buying my grand kids toys I buy them savings bonds. My number one goal is to get them all to go to college. You have to go to college now days or you're not going to be able to make it out in this world. What I did is end up going into the military. I had a friend that suggested that I go into the National Guard and see if I liked it, before going into the military. I went into basic training and I really loved it, I was "soldier of the cycle". I'd probably still be there if I could have been in basic training. They give you all kinds of tests and my highest scores were in electronics so they put me in missiles. I went down to Fort Bliss, Texas. I came home and got a full time job in the National Guard. In other words we wore the uniform and it was like being on active duty. So I was an enlisted man working at the Nike Hercules and Nike Ajax sites and one of my commanders thought I was good officer material so he suggested I should go through OCS. So I did that and got commissioned. I spent quite a bit of time in the Army National Guard. I was 32 years old when I switched over to the Air National Guard, I wanted to become a pilot. I tried to apply, but you have to be under 27 1/2 (years old) to go to pilot training school. I tried to get a waiver - I told them I wanted to make a career in the military and I was in better shape than most of the pilots, but they wouldn't grant me a waiver. Dean Martin's son was the only one that got a waiver and he unfortunately flew into a mountain and killed himself out in California. But I ended up spending 37 years in the Army and Air National Guard. It was a good career for me. I actually did something that you can't do without a 4 year college education and that was get commissioned. Unfortunately, I could only go as high as a Lt. Colonel in air side because in the air side you had to be able to fly the airplane. If I would have stayed in the Army I probably could have made General. But, I had a great career and I have no regrets.
GHSH: That's a lot of years to dedicate. Now when you were growing up was there a specific person or a couple of people who had a big influence on you. I know you were from a big family, but was there somebody from within or outside of your family who had a big influence on you?
DH: Well, my brother-in-law Paul Sweeney. He was the one who suggested that instead of going into active duty to go into the National Guard. He's the one who suggested it to me so he's really the one who helped me out. It was really devastating, here I am graduating from high school and I have nothing planned for the rest of my life. He really gave me some good advice and help me out. Fortunately, I was able to take his advice and make a good career of it.
GHSH: Ok, so this brings us up to 1962, and you and your wife Judy are going to have your first baby. Prior to the birth everything was normal right?
DH: Oh yeah, everything was going really good. Rick was very active when he was being born and he turned himself over and that's when the umbilical cord got twisted around his neck. We got Rick home and we just took things day by day. The doctors really couldn't tell us anything. The only thing they told us was put him in an institution because he's going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life. We still haven't figured out what kind of vegetable he is. We brought him home and as he was getting older and older we could look into Rick's eyes and we could tell that he was paying attention and he understood everything we were saying. It's very powerful when someone looks at you right in the eyes and they don't flinch away or anything else. We just knew it. So we tried teaching him the alphabet, brought him hot and cold pots and pans. We had to bring everything to him. He was included in everything we did. When the other 2 sons were born sometimes you have to go to the store to get a gallon of milk or a newspaper. You know, it was a lot of extra work to take Rick out and put him in his seat, but we did everything with him. Everything that we did with the other 2 boys we did with Rick. We'd take him ice skating, we'd play baseball with him, we'd play ice hockey with him, we'd play everything with him. We've done everything with him. It was very difficult at first because he couldn't crawl, he wasn't crying - we had to pinch his feet to see if he'd cry, we almost had to force feed him because he wouldn't eat. When Rob was born, Rick got very jealous because all of a sudden here's Rob turning over, and crawling, and walking, and Rick was just laying there and he couldn't do anything. It actually bothered Rob that we had to spend so much time with Rick, but when Russell was born it was a lot easier for Rob because the two of them could do things together. There was one time that Rob said, "dad, I wish I was Rick". I said, "look, you think about it, you can do anything. You can go outside by yourself, you can go to the bathroom, you can feed yourself, you can get yourself a glass of water" - I said, "you can do anything and he can't do anything - he has to have everything done for him". He understands that now but it was very difficult.
GHSH: Well, when you're young everything revolves around you, you, you.
DH: That's right. Yeah. And we did a lot as a family. We went camping all the time, we started out in tents. So we were very much involved and we were a very close family where we did everything together as a family. We took them fishing and camping - they loved that. Now I got 4 grandsons and they just love Rick. They crawl all over his chair, they get in his lap and fight with him (laughing). It's really amazing to watch them.
GHSH: After Rob and Russell were born, Rick, he was just the "older brother" or was it a little different than that. Was he just the normal older brother?
DH: He was just the older brother. He was treated the same as they were and everything else. He just couldn't do things because he was confined to a wheelchair and we had to push him. They pushed him and did things with him.
GHSH: Your family had to jump through a lot of hoops to get Rick into the public schools, but Rick had "the communicator"?
DH: The "TIC" - the Tuft's Interactive Communicator. What happened is we fought to get Rick into public schools. Especially Judy. When
Rick was born he had all those medical appointments at the hospital and I had to work because we had these bills. As a matter of fact, I had to get another job to pay all the medical bills. Judy was very much involved in getting Rick into public schools. We knew Rick was smart so we took him to public schools. They said "no, he doesn't understand and he's not going to be able to learn". So we went and met some engineers from Tuft's University in Boston and they said the same thing that Rick wouldn't be able to learn. So we told the engineers to tell Rick a joke. They told Rick a joke and Rick cracked up laughing. They said, wow, maybe there is something there. They asked us, "if you guys can get us five thousand dollars we'll build a communicating device for Rick." You have to remember this is 32 years ago and five thousand dollars was a lot of money. The Hoyt Family raised the money and we gave it to the engineers. They built what was called the TIC, the Tuft's Interactive Communicator. The engineers were coming to our house and everyone was betting what the first words Rick is ever going to say were. His mom was saying that it was going to be "hi mom," and me the dad was saying it was going to be "hi dad". Well the Boston Bruins were going for the Stanley Cup and the very first words he ever said was "GO BRUINS". He was laughing like crazy because he knew he tricked us. After that we took Rick with his TIC to the school department and the principal of the school took Rick into a classroom with some teachers and left us outside because before they were saying we were answering for him. Well they asked him questions and he answered them correctly so they had to accept him in public school. After that the Federal Government came out with a grant and they were building these TIC's so other children could go to school. That's how it all got started with Rick going to school.
GHSH: And to this day it's kind of the same machine, but modified a little bit?
DH: 32 years ago....everything is a lot better than it was. It was very, very slow.
GHSH: So Rick's got this new device that he can communicate with you, and he wants to throw you a little curve ball - he wants you to push him in a benefit run?
DH: What happened was Rick's gym teacher got Rick involved with all the gym activities with all the other children. He was also the basketball coach at Westfield State College and he used to take Rick to the basketball games. At one of the basketball games they made an announcement that one of the lacrosse players from the college was in an automobile accident and he was paralyzed from the waist down. They were going to have a charity road race to try to help raise some money so he could pay his medical bills. When Rick came home from that basketball game he told me all about it on his computer. He said, "dad, I have to do something for him. I want to let him know that life goes on even though he's paralyzed. I want to run in the race." At the time I was 40 years old. I was not a runner. I used to run maybe a mile 3 times a week just to try to keep my weight down. All we had was a Mulholland wheelchair which was prescription form fitted to Rick's body and we had a hard time pushing him in it, never mind running with it. We went down to the race - it was a 5 mile race. They gave Rick and I the number double zero. The gun went off and Rick and I took off with all the other runners. Well they thought Rick and I would just go to the corner and turn around and come back. Well, we didn't. We went the whole 5 miles coming in next to last - but not last. That's one thing, in all the races that we've been in we've never been last. The gym teachers wife took a picture of Rick when we came across that finish line and he's got the biggest smile you ever saw in your life. When we got home that night he wrote on his computer "dad, when I'm running it feels like my disability disappears". Which was a very powerful message to me. If you think about it, somebody who can't talk, use their arms or legs, and now they're out there running and their disability disappears? He actually called himself "Free Bird" because now he was free and able to be out there running and competing with everybody else, just like everybody else. But after that race there was only a problem with me - I was disabled. I never knew you had so many muscles in your body that could ache. I couldn't walk for about 2 weeks. That's when I told Rick if we're going to continue running we're going to have to get a chair built so I wouldn't be hurting as badly.
So we went up to Crotched Mountain in Greenfield, New Hampshire, and we met an engineer up there. We told him what we wanted for a chair and he just got some old pipes and some old tubing and he welded them together, and this is what we called our "running chair". We took our new running chair over to what we called our first official race which was in Springfield, Massachusetts. When we got over there, nobody would come near us and nobody would talk to us and nobody wanted us in the race. Finally, the overall race director said that we could run. It was a 10K race, and there were 300 runners in the race, and Rick and I finished 150th out of the 300 runners. So after that Rick and I would go to a different town and a different city and run. Finally people started coming up to us and talking to us and they could see that Rick had a personality and a sense of humor and that he loved to be in the middle of running with everybody else. We only had one problem after that. I used to get a lot of telephone calls and letters from other families that had disabled people. They were very upset with me, they said, "what are you doing dragging your disabled son to all these races? Are you just looking for glory for yourself?" They didn't realize - he was the one who was dragging me to all the races.
That fall Rick and I sat down and talked about what we wanted to do the following year. We decided we wanted to run the Boston Marathon. So we applied with the Boston Athletic Association and they turned us down saying, "no, you're different than anybody else, you can't run with us". But the Boston Marathon had a wheelchair division so we talked to them and they also turned us down saying, "no, your different than us, you can't run with us". But what they did say, "if you want you can line up behind us and run". And that's what we did in 1981. We ran our first marathon in 3 hours and 18 minutes which beat 85% of the all the other runners.
GHSH: That's awesome, that's awesome.
DH: Yeah, but even after that great time they still wouldn't accept us as official entrants again in 1982 and 1983 even though we ran under 3 hours at a 2:58 and 2:59. So in 1983 I talked to Will Cloney, who was the executive director of the BAA at the time, and asked him why we couldn't be official entrants. What he said was we didn't have any qualifying criteria. What he meant by that is that Boston is the only marathon in the world where you have to run in other marathons in a certain time depending on your age. Well at that time Rick was in his 20's and I was in my 40's. They were using Rick's age for us to qualify, so that meant we had to run under 2 hours and 50 minutes. So that fall we went down to Washington D.C., to the Marines Marathon. The Marines Marathon is what they call "The People's Marathon", anybody can run in this marathon. They always draw over 15,000 runners. They do not get the elite runners because there's no cash prizes, it's just your regular trophy's and plaques. We ran that marathon in 2:45:23, and that qualified both Rick and I to the Boston Marathon. We took our official certificates, submitted them to the BAA, and we've been official entrants ever since. As a matter of fact, 1996, Rick and I were honored as Centennial Heroes by the BAA and their sponsor John Hancock. So, we've come a long way and we've been able to break down a lot of barriers along the way.
GHSH: If you had to put your finger on it - what drives you? Is it Rick's smile, or is it seeing the changes that you've been accepted by the public, or a combination of different things - what keeps driving you?
DH: What keeps driving me is Rick, because Rick asked me to run in that first race and he just loves to be out there competing. To me, he's the athlete and I'm just loaning him my arms and legs so that he can compete. He's a fighter and he never gives up. He's never given up on anything throughout his life and he never will. And now after all these races and all these years we're getting inspired and motivated by all these other people. We get e-mails from people all over the world. It's just unbelievable how it's affecting them in their family lives and everything else. Every race we go to now there is 15 or 20 people that come up to us and say "hey Rick and Dick, we want to thank you. We saw you guys out there competing and we said if they can do it we can do it. Now we're out here in the best shapes of our lives and we want to thank you". It's changing a lot of families. Families are getting closer together as a family now. Fathers and mothers who have been apart from their children, now they're closer together. And it's not just the disabled people, it's the able-bodied people too. We had The Today Show out here to do this story on us and I just let them read a couple of e-mails, you know e-mails of letter size, and they couldn't get through the first or second sentence without tears coming to their eyes. That's how much we're affecting people.
GHSH: When you and Rick are competing is it just you guys in your own little world or are you competing against the other athletes?
DH: When we first started competing it was just Rick and I out there. Rick has 2 other brothers and his brothers were really good athletes in high school. I used to take time off work to go and support them and now they're out supporting us. It was something that just started and Rick and I never expected what's happening to happen. We never even dreamed of doing a marathon, and getting into triathlons, and doing an Ironman Triathlon, and running and biking across the world, and traveling to all these different countries to compete and speak. It's just something that's unbelievable that's happened, but something good that's happened. Most people say that if I could just help 1 person in my lifetime - well, we're helping the whole world right now, it's just unbelievable.
GHSH: Have you ever been in an event and you were ready to throw in the towel and Rick just said, "no way, we're going to finish this"?
DH: That's one thing that has never come across our minds. We have never thought of ever quitting any event that we've been in, in all of those races. We just get so focused and composed, and we are physically and mentally fit. You have to be mentally and physically fit in order to do marathons and Ironman triathlons. We just get so focused on what we have to do and we always have a good time. I've never thought and Rick has never asked me to quit an event. The only hard thing I have is when I'm out there training by myself, it gets very boring sometimes. Especially up here in the wintertime trying to get ready for the Boston Marathon. You've got 6 inches of snow, the wind is blowing, it's 30 below zero ... you got to get out and do your training and it's really tough but you have to do it.
GHSH: Speaking for Rick, does he still have the same feelings competing now as when you guys first started or is it different?
DH: At one time when he was going to college he thought he may want to back off because when we started we were doing 50 races a year. That's almost one every weekend. There was one week we did 3 triathlons. One on a Sunday, one on a Wednesday, and one on a Saturday. So Rick thought that maybe he wanted to back off, but right now he's into it more than ever because of these e-mails that we're getting from all these people - how much it's motivated and inspired them and that's why they're out there competing. We've got mothers and fathers now that are starting to do what we do. We had a race down in Virginia Beach - The Rock & Roll Half Marathon. When we got down there, there was 5 fathers out there pushing their sons or daughters and they all had Team Hoyt clothes on. I've had people call up, they want to start a Team Hoyt and get more people involved in competing with their sons and getting equipment built and everything else. It's just spreading like crazy. Now we're doing motivational speaking engagements and I'm doing 2-3 a week, and we're turning down more than what we're doing. It's just amazing what's happened.
GHSH: I know you have a crazy schedule, but do you have any hobbies of your own, or Team Hoyt is everything?
DH: We have our own foundation and it's a very small foundation right now because we haven't had any time to put any work into it. But now it's going to start getting bigger because now we get numbers for like the Virginia Beach Rock & Roll and The Boston Marathon - there are runners that come in and go out and raise funds for the Hoyt Foundation. So hopefully this is going to grow and get bigger and we're going to be able to help a lot of other families out that have disabled children. I miss ... like especially this past year. I love my 4 grandsons and I like to get involved with them, especially now when they're young and they're starting out playing basketball, football and baseball. I just had a bad year where I didn't get to see them. So Rick and I are taking them down to Disney World for about a week after Christmas so we can spend some time with them. What I'm going to do next year, I'm cutting back where I'm only going to be doing 1 speaking engagement a week. That way it will give me more time to spend with my grandchildren and my 2 other sons. We'll get out and play some golf and just have some fun. I'm very fortunate I have a nice house on the lake here so they do come to the house and they go fishing. I don't have a motor boat, but I have kayak's, paddle boats, canoe's and row boats ... the kids - they just love it. They don't even ask for a motor boat, you know, they have so much fun on the lake. I'd just like to be able to enjoy my family a lot more. Rick and I are almost always together but not together with the rest of the family.
GHSH: This is kind of a powerful question, but in the whole grand scheme of things do you feel like the Hoyt Family, Rick, and yourself were chosen for this job?
DH: Yes, and Rick will tell you that too. We're Christians, and that's a lot of the e-mails we get and what they talk about. We have a book out and 3 DVD's out, and it's us doing The Ironman Triathlon and the music in the background is "My Redeemer Lives", and the other one is "I Can Only Imagine". If people go to YouTube and go into Team Hoyt it's amazing what you'll see. These e-mails are just going all over the world. We actually now have these DVD's produced and are selling them. We're in the process of writing another book. As a matter of fact, Rick is in the process of writing the last chapter. What he's going to write, and I'm dying to see what he says, is how his life would have been if he wasn't out there competing in road races and triathlons.
GHSH: I'm doing this interview for Get Hungry Stay Hungry. These words mean different things to different people, and what does Get Hungry Stay Hungry mean do Dick Hoyt?
DH: Well, I think I've already told you that. We started off very small and never expected to be doing marathons and triathlons, but you start off running and then you really get into it. You run in these 5K's, 10K's, 10 milers, and then your next call is to do a marathon. Then you get into triathlons. You're doing these little sprint triathlons and then your ultimate goal is to do The Ironman Triathlon. And that's us ... getting hungry, and we're staying hungry because we've been doing it for 27 years and 959 athletic events, so we're still hungry.
GHSH: What do you think it means to Rick? Does it mean the same as it means to you?
DH: I would say that it means the same - exactly the same - from what he's written.
GHSH: Dick, I know you have a message from Team Hoyt, why don't you tell me all the information you'd like to put in about that, and your website.
DH: Our motto is "Yes You Can", 3 small 3-lettered words. There is no such word as can't in the Hoyt vocabulary. For 45 years, that's how old Rick is, everybody has been saying, "no you can't do this - you can't do that". And anytime somebody says no you can't, we've gone out and done it. We don't look for anything special from anybody else, we've just gone out and we just do it - just like anybody else. We're not looking for anything special from these road races or anything else. We've been able to qualify with our times. It's just amazing to us what has happened and how it's happened. We love being out there and we just love being involved. We meet so many great people and have so many great times with all the people out there that we're able to compete with. Especially speaking to all of these big, big companies. We're speaking to big companies who have had thousands of speakers, and when we get through they say "that's the most inspirational story we've ever heard in our lives". What's really great is just the way we're affecting people throughout the world. When Rick and I first started we were not accepted, and now we're getting invited all over the world by everybody.
GHSH: That's the other side of the coin right there isn't it - from where you started.
DH: Yes it is, yes it is.
GHSH: And your website is?
DH: Our website is www.teamhoyt.com We've got a great website, so it would be great if people would go and check out our website. There's a schedule - a calendar on there, and all the events we're doing, where we're going, and our speaking engagements and everything else.
GHSH: You and Rick are no doubt going to be the best father and son team in history. You guys are living legends and I think you're just starting to realize it.
DH: Thank you very much. That's very nice. One of these days we're going to be able to sit down and relax and look back at what we've accomplished.
*** Below you'll find a list of events that Team Hoyt has participated in: (as of 4/23/14)
255 - Triathlons (6 Ironman distances, 7 Half Ironman distances)
22 - Duathlons
72 - Marathons (32 Boston Marathons)
8 - 18.6 Milers
97 - Half Marathons
1 - 20 K
37 - 10 Milers
35 - Falmouth 7.1 Milers (1 Falmouth in the Fall)
8 - 15 K's
218 - 10 Milers
160 - 5 Milers
4 - 8 K's
18 - 4 Milers
161 - 5 K's
8 - 20 Milers
2 - 11 K's
1 - 7 K
1 - 20 Mile bike for "Best Buddies"
Biked/ran across the USA in '92 - 3735 miles in 45 consecutive days
Biked the states of CT, RI, and MA with "Axa World Ride '95"
Total of 1108 events (as of 4/23/14)
Please visit Team Hoyt's website and support them and their foundation as your heart leads you to do. They have clothing items, books, DVD's, posters and photos.
by Shane Fleharty / Get Hungry Stay Hungry