Dick Hoyt runs because his son Rick can't.

Together, they have moved millions.

By Jenni Carlson

John Nelson has never been in the same room with Dick Hoyt or his son Rick.

Yet, the men had a profound effect on his life. They inspired him to try something different, something that has enriched not only his life but also that of his wheelchair-bound son.

John Nelson has never been in the same room with Dick Hoyt or his son Rick.

Yet, the men had a profound effect on his life. They inspired him to try something different, something that has enriched not only his life but also that of his wheelchair-bound son.

There are so many others like Nelson. A father in California who sought a stronger connection with his children. A mother in Maryland who drew encouragement in dealing with her son's cerebral palsy. They are just some of the thousands, if not millions, who have been touched by the Hoyts.

Over the past 30 years, the Hoyts have finished more than a thousand races. Together, they've done half marathons, marathons, triathlons, even several ironman triathlons. And as impressive as that is, people don't write heartfelt letters or become better parents or change their lives because of the number of races the Hoyts have done. Rather, it's how they've done them.

Rick was born a spastic quadriplegic. He cannot walk. He cannot talk. But with his father's legs, he can run.

Dick has pushed and pulled and carried his son over tens of thousands of miles. The retired Marine from Massachusetts does it because Rick loves it, because he doesn't feel disabled when they're on the open road or in the open water.

Rick couldn't run without his father.

Dick wouldn't run without his son.

They have become a world-wide sensation, appearing on billboards, in magazines and all over the internet. The 69-year-old father and his 47-year-old son have become an inspiration, a moving example of what's possible.

Tuesday night, Dick Hoyt will bring his message to Oklahoma City. He will be the featured speaker at the Mission of Hope Banquet, an annual fundraiser for the City Rescue Mission.

It will only add to the ripple effect. Already, millions across the country and even around the world have been moved by the Hoyts.

To understand the their reach, you must first know their story.

‘I want to run'

Rick Hoyt as a child

Rick Hoyt as a young man learning to use his first computer
(top)Rick's parents refused to send him away to an institution, raising him like the rest of their children -- at home.(bottom)Rick communicates with a computer built at Tufts University. It allowed him not only to attend public school but also to graduate from college.

This is a love story, really.

It began in 1962 on a winter day in Winchester, Mass., when Dick and Judy Hoyt's son became entangled in his umbilical cord during birth. His neck was strangled, his airflow cut, his brain damaged.

Doctors told the Hoyts that their son would be a vegetable. They actually used that word. They also said the family would be better off sending Rick to an institution. And in the early 60s, that's what parents often did with handicapped children. It was the norm. It was accepted.

The Hoyts would have none of it.

They saw life in Rick's eyes, eyes that would dance when they came into view, eyes that would follow them around the room. They decided that they could just as soon part with their son as cut off an arm.

The Hoyts not only raised Rick but also treated him like any other child. When the family went to the pool, Rick went, too. When the kids played hockey in the street, Rick played, too. When it was time to start school, Rick went, even though it took a special computer that helped him communicate and the pushing and prodding of his parents before the public schools allowed him to attend.

One night, Rick ventured out to watch a basketball game. During the game, he heard that a local lacrosse player had been paralyzed in an accident. There was a road race to raise money for him.

"Dad, I've got to do something for him," Rick typed on his computer when he returned home. "I've got to let him know that life goes on even though he's paralyzed."

Then, he typed the words that changed so many lives.

"I want to run in the race."

‘My disability disappears'

In His Words

Tom Jones, City Rescue Mission CEO
The Rescue Mission's Mission of Hope Banquet on Tuesday evening will feature Dick Hoyt.

The City Rescue Mission is the state's largest homeless shelter, and we have the state's largest free drug-and-alcohol-recovery program. We feed between 1,200 and 1,500 meals a day. We have any where from 400 to 700 people stay here per night.

We have about a $4 million a year budget in order for us to do that. We raise every penny of it through individual donors, which makes the reason for the Mission of Hope Banquet so important.

That is our biggest event out of the year where we try to bring individuals from the community into this banquet and we tell the stories. They hear testimonies from some of the clients that have really been helped; had it not been for City Rescue, they might not be alive today because of the way their life was headed.

The reality of what’s facing the homeless right now is pretty stark because of the economy. We've had 2,500 brand new clients that have never stayed at City Rescue in their lives here in the last 12 months. We might’ve had 500 to 700 new people (a year) prior to the economy doing what it’s doing.

The sad piece to this is we’ve had a 54 percent increase in the number of single women with children in the last 12 months. It breaks our hearts.

This mission, traditionally, has been for middle aged men who were alcoholics. On any given day, we have between 50 to 100 children now living at City Rescue which compounds for the need for our funding. With kids, we’re clothing them differently. You can put a 55-year-old alcoholic male in a pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt, but you’ve got kids in elementary school, middle school, high school. You have to do it different. We’re not going to have those kids looking like they’re homeless.

Even back in the 80s with the oil bust ... it just didn’t have the effect that it’s having now.

The greatest motive for us to have the Hoyts here is this idea that Dick believed in his son when no one else would. Everybody in his world was telling him what he needed to do with that child that would, as far as they were concerned, never even be capable of amounting to anything.

I’ve never met a person that’s come into the Rescue Mission that said, “I have arrived. This is what I planned to do in my life.” There’s not a homeless person here that wants to be here, but somebody has to believe in them at the point where they are.

That’s what I believe Team Hoyt’s message is — you can’t always pass judgment on what you see. Sometimes you have to look beyond the immediate circumstances and say, “What is the potential?”

Compiled by Jenni Carlson

Dick provided the legs.

Rick provided the heart.

He seemed to sense when his dad needed a boost. He would flash that ear-to-ear smile, throw back his head and flap his arms like an orchestra conductor. Everyone would go crazy.

And along the way, Dick and Rick became a phenomenon. People couldn't get enough of their story. There were more newspaper articles, more television pieces. There was a book, then a DVD.

Search for "Team Hoyt" on YouTube, and you'll get more than 600 hits. Some of the videos are even in Spanish and Japanese.

Do the same search on GodTube, a Christian version of YouTube, and you'll find a video with more than 15 millions hits.

"We get e-mails from people from all over the world," Dick said. "I mean, we're getting e-mails from people that are ready to commit suicide and they've seen our video on the internet, and now, they're out running and doing triathlons. The same thing with drug addicts and alcoholics.

"You know, it's just amazing what's happened with our story. We never even expected to be running a marathon, and now, we've got people all over the world that are inspiring us to continue doing what we're doing."

Inspiring them?

Millions beg to differ on who is inspiring whom.

The Ripple Effect

Dick and Rick Hoyt at the Boston Marathon
Team Hoyt has finished over a thousand races, including the Boston Marathon 27 times.

Scott Spiering was sitting on his living room floor watching television when he first heard about Team Hoyt. Dick and Rick were doing the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii — a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike, then completed with a 26.2-mile run.

"We watched every minute," Spiering said. "My wife and I were brought to tears."

Spiering, who heads a family foundation benefiting underprivileged athletes, wrote the Hoyts a letter and pledged to help in any way possible. But really, it was Dick who helped him.

"To this day, I have shared that same desire to connect with my children as a result of watching him," the father of three healthy, active children said via telephone from his office in Carlsbad, Calif. "I've been in Vietnam. I've been shot twice. Nothing in my life have I ever remembered as much as the birth of my children and that video."

Danya Bryant was drawn to a similar segment about the Hoyts. It wasn't Dick that hooked her but rather Rick. He not only went to public school but also earned a college degree from Boston University.

Her son, Zachary, suffers from cerebral palsy, too, but he has dreams like Rick. He already goes to public school, taking regular classes, being involved in drama and having an interest in music.

"He has the electric guitar that all 17 year olds want," Bryant said via telephone from their Baltimore home. "Similar to the Hoyts, it's always been my experience that just because he doesn't do it the way everybody else does it doesn't mean he doesn't want to do it."

Ditto for John Nelson.

The Oklahoma City man has a son who also suffers from cerebral palsy. Chris has always been included in every family activity — Nelson and wife, Patti, made certain of that — but Nelson never thought about taking Chris running with him until he heard about Team Hoyt.

"Let's see if we can't put together some kind of little cart to move him around in and try him in some of these races and see if he enjoys it," Nelson remembers thinking.

And enjoy it, Chris did.

Rick and Dick Hoyt at their first marathon
The first time the Hoyts raced was on a whim, but that five-mile charity run sparked a phenomenon.

A decade later, the Nelsons are still running. They do about one race a month, and a few years ago, they even did the full marathon at the Memorial Marathon.

Every time they run is special. Sure, other family members are involved with support roles, but when father and son run, Nelson has a chance to talk to Chris, to see his reaction, to have a connection that is unlike any other.

"It's just something that we get to do together," Nelson said. "It's kind of added another level of enjoyment."

Their lives have been changed by it. Their lives have been improved because of it.

Because of the Hoyts.

‘Affecting people all over'

A second book about Dick and Rick Hoyt is in the works. It could be released as early as next year.

Dick and Rick Hoyt have no plans to slow down. There's a half marathon at Disney coming up, then the Boston Marathon next spring. They'll run the granddaddy race, an event that once excluded them, for the 28th time.

A second book about them is also in the works. This one focuses on some of the people who've been touched by their story, who've felt those ripples of inspiration.

"It's affecting people all over," Dick said of what Team Hoyt is doing. "No matter where we go we have people that come up to us after every race."

Their message is often simple but profound.

"Thank you."

From a phone interview with Dick Hoyt


Want to learn more about the City Rescue Mission or make a donation? Check out www.cityrescue.org.

Want to know more about Team Hoyt or donate to the Hoyt Foundation Inc.? Check out www.teamhoyt.com.

Team Hoyt on YouTube

My Reedemer Lives - Team Hoyt.
Team Hoyt on the Today Show.
Profile of Courage.