Fathers can be many things; they can be teachers, supporters, protectors, or a disciplinarian.
Father’s can be many things, but the best thing they can be is dedicated.
Today’s Tuesday Takeaway is a story of a father as today is my father’s birthday. Not only is today’s story that of a father of a disabled child, but a runner. As my father prepares to run another Boston Marathon, under unique circumstances, I couldn’t think of a better takeaway this week.
To have a child labeled ‘disabled’ is something that changes the parental experience; each parent grieves “what was” as they adjust to the beauty that’s become. The story of Dick and Rick Hoyt is one I’d followed for years; growing up my father pushed us to be dedicated to our athletics as much as we were to our studies. We have valued the Boston Marathon since childhood and watched in awe each year as runners cross the finish line. A duo that caught my eye for years was Dick and Rick Hoyt.
In the Spring of 1977, Rick Hoyt told his father, Dick, that he wanted to complete a 5-mile benefit race for a lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Dick agreed, despite having not been a runner, and pushed his son’s wheelchair all five miles, finishing second to last. However, that night Rick told his father “when I’m running, it feels like I’m not disabled”. This moment changed the trajectory of both these men’s futures. Following this five-mile race, the father son duo completed over one-thousand races including over thirty Boston Marathons. The 2009 Boston Marathon was Team Hoyt’s 1000’th race. Rick was once asked if he could give his father one thing, what would it be? Rick stated “The thing I’d most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once”. A simple statement that sums up our hearts and minds, we hope to give a fraction to those who have given us so much in our lifetime.
Rick was born in 1962 and as a result of oxygen deprivation at birth Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. When he was born the doctors told his parents to “forget him” and to “Put him away. Put him in an institution. He’s going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life”. The parents were told Rick had little hope to live a “normal” life. Dick reported later “here he is. He’s 52-years-old and we haven’t figured out what kind of vegetable he is yet”. This moment for many parents continues today. Medical providers encouraging termination of pregnancies that aren’t listed as “perfect” or utilizing genetic testing to weed out anything not perceived as “normal”. This was part of the Hoyt’s experience and it continues as part of our world today. One day we’ll review the Congratulations Project developed by the PALS Program which is revolutionizing the way we view our disabled newborns. Many met with “I’m sorry” or “how are you doing with this” are now met with a simple “congratulations on your new baby”. But this is a story for another day, bookmarked!
For Dick and his wife, Judy, loving Rick didn’t take anything away from parenthood, rather they quickly realized how much they had gained. They developed a passion of pursuance of a world of inclusion in their community, sports, education and the workplace. These parents forged a path for their child with love as their guide. While Dick and Judy were told their child would never function alongside peers, Rick defied all odds while served unconditional love and support from his parents. Dick and Judy fought for integration in the public school systems, forcing school administrators to see past Rick’s physical limitations, and at age 13 Rick was finally enrolled in public school. Rick’s education didn’t end there, Rick attended Boston University following high school and graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993. With this, think contextually at the barriers we continue to face in today’s society regarding inclusion of those with physical and cognitive limitations.
“When I’m running it feels like I’m not disabled.”
Rick always said if he could only complete one race each year it would be the Boston Marathon, his favorite race. 2013 was scheduled to be Dick and Rick’s final Boston Marathon together however due to the bombings they vowed to return in 2014. The duo completed “Boston Strong” alongside the other runners in 2014. Today, you can find a bronze statue honoring the pair in Hopkinton, Massachusetts with the tagline
“Yes, You Can”.
Today is my father’s birthday. My father who reflects Dick Hoyt in his dedication, in his teaching and in his strength. Being a father to a disabled child is no easy journey, but to be a father who paves a road for their disabled child is a rare existence. The stories of my family’s experience is for another time, today we reflect on the runners undertaking a virtual journey of 26.2 miles. My father will take on this running experience this September. As a child I may not have understood all of my fathers teachings however today my understanding is clear. He centered us on explaining what we do and why, on choosing to dedicate ourselves completely to our endeavors, and to stay focused on our future.
We remain in a limbo today amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Many runners prepared for cheering fans, water stops, medical support if needed when planning to endure 26.2 miles. This was never expected nor could we deem this normal. Yet here we remain. Many runners, including my father, are grappling with running 26.2 miles alone. Yet again, we remain. Today let us reflect on the perseverance and heart that is amplified in runners of the 2020 Boston Marathon, an unprecedented virtual marathon taking place in September 2020. Reach out to the runners you know, be present for their race day, show sideline support physically, emotionally, and mentally.
This past year we lost a dear friend, Billy. A friend who supported my father through every marathon he’s run. Who assured my father under no circumstance is he a runner however somehow he get through. This mans story and legacy is for another day. To honor his life is a beautiful thing. This year my father dedicated his race to this lifelong friend. This friend will be in our hearts on race day.
Today I think of Dick and Rick Hoyt, today I think of my father, today I think of Billy, today I think of the runners, and today I think of those our society has marginalized. As always, I think of Emily. With these thoughts I return to Dick and Rick’s tagline “Yes, You Can”. From there I think of hope as we continue to forge a path towards a world of inclusion and devotion that we learn from these remarkable human experiences.
As always, Happy Tuesday.