A Boston Marathon Hero: What It Takes to be "The Strongest Dad in the World"
"Everyday people do extraordinary things... every day."

Every April, thousands of antsy runners converge on East Main Street in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, awaiting to begin one of the most famous (if not the most famous) 26.2-mile journeys in the world.

If you have ever witnessed the Boston Marathon or watched it on TV, you have seen how truly massive the race is. Trying to spot a friend, loved one, or running buddy is like trying to find a singlet-clad needle in an Beantown haystack. Despite the magnitude of the race, the event does boil down to individuals that give it such flavor.

And every individual has their story.

The first-timer. The 20-year veteran. The elite champion. The underdog who was told he or she could never finish. The "Heartbreak Hill" survivors.

These are but five of the narratives that make up the diverse fabric of the Boston Marathon. So many of these stories and individuals inspire me. As a long-time devotee of distance running, I can't help but focus on the elite runners who make it to the podium and make history:

  • Geoffrey Mutai running 2:03:02 in 2011 (an astounding 4:41 per mile…still impressive despite a tailwind)

  • Bill Rodgers pulling a Boston three-peat from 1978-1980

  • Joan Benoit winning and setting the world and course record in 1983

But there is one story that inspires more than any course record or gold medal will.

Perhaps you have heard of Dick and Rick Hoyt--a very special father-son duo. If you haven't, their story begins long before they ever toed the start line in Boston.

Due to oxygen deprivation to his brain at birth, Rick was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and has lived his entire life as a spastic quadriplegic. Unable to walk or speak, Rick was never able to fully integrate into the public school system. In 1972, thanks to a group of engineers at Tufts University, Rick was finally able to communicate via a special computer.

Five years later Dick and Rick participated in a 5-mile road race that benefitted a lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. With no prior experience with distance running, Dick agreed to push Rick in a wheelchair for the entirety of the run. Dick and Rick finished second-to-last. Not too bad for someone who had never really run before and had to tow another body.

But the event had a strong, positive impact on Rick. The night of the race, Rick told his father, "Dad, when I'm running, it feels like I'm not handicapped."

Thus began an streak of racing for the father-son tandem--a campaign that not only liberated a boy with a crippling disability, but also instilled hope in so many onlookers and fellow runners.

Since that initial 5-mile adventure, Dick and Rick, more commonly known as "Team Hoyt," have competed in more than 1000 races--including 6 IronMan Triathlons and 70 marathons. For triathlons, Dick will pull Rick in a boat attached to his vest with a bungee cord. Talk about tough...

It's no wonder why many have coined Papa Hoyt, "The Strongest Dad in the World."

Additionally, the Hoyt family established the Hoyt Foundation in 1989 in an effort to "build the individual character, self-confidence, and self-esteem of America's disabled young people through inclusion in all facets of daily life."

And did I mention that Team Hoyt has achieved a 5k PR of 17:40 as well as a
2:40 marathon? Maybe Dick hadn't really stepped in running shoes prior to 1977 but, undoubtedly, he has some pretty serious wheels.

With a half-ton of races under his belt, the Boston Marathon is still Dick and Rick's favorite race. Having inspired so many spectators and fans and having brought many to tears, John Hancock Insurance--the head sponsors of the event--have commissioned a bronze statue honoring Team Hoyt, which was unveiled this past Monday in Hopkinton.

With the 117th running of the Boston Marathon to take place this Monday, April 15, maybe you too will witness the courage of a father who has undergone such demanding physical trials to free his son, even if only for a few hours, of his disability.

And to those competing and traveling for the race: Best of luck from Holabird Sports!