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Team Hoyt

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Rick Hoyt
Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producers: Glenda Gaitz, Lincoln Howes

It's a very unusual family, a father and son called Dick and Rick Hoyt, who share a very special bond. They're inseparable and damn near invincible.

No challenge is too tough, no obstacle too high, provided they face it together. They've climbed mountains, competed in marathons, even trekked across America.

Pretty impressive, you might think. But it's more than that, you see Rick can't walk, he can't talk. He was born with cerebral palsy.

Not that that's ever stopped him. For the Hoyts, when the world says you can't, it's time to prove you can.

Transcript

LIZ HAYES: The Hoyt clan has gathered at the family home in Massachusetts for a long weekend barbecue. And right in the midst of this idyllic scene, as much a part of it as anyone, is 44-year-old Rick … living an extraordinary life, thanks to the love and dedication of an extraordinary family.

DICK HOYT: They're unbelievable, the grandchildren. What you saw with them — they're fighting with him and everything else, they play ball with him and they take him every place. And I think that's part of educating people because they were brought up with Rick when they were babies and so it doesn't matter, you know?

LIZ HAYES: Rick can't walk or talk but he has an amazing passion to compete. He and his 66-year-old father, Dick, have become 'Team Hoyt', a phenomenon in the world of athletics, and run their way into the hearts of America … testament to parental perseverance and a father's incredible devotion to his son.

DICK HOYT: Well, you won't find another bond as powerful as the bond that Rick and I have between us. There isn't anything that Rick and I can't do together, there's just no doubt about it.

RICK HOYT: I am fully aware of everything that goes on around me.

LIZ HAYES: And that's what I soon realised when I met Rick. Communication through a specially designed computer is slow and laborious as he must make mouse clicks with head movements. But what shines through is Rick's cheeky personality. Do you get frustrated at all by the way people seem to treat you or underestimate you?

RICK HOYT: People do generally underestimate me due to my physical condition. If someone takes the time to get to know me, they will realise that I am no different than anyone else other than the fact that I will not beat you in a foot race and you will never have to tell me to shut my mouth.

LIZ HAYES: Rick was born with cerebral palsy when oxygen to his brain was blocked during birth. It means the brain can't send the correct messages to his muscles. But, right from the start, his parents were convinced that, on the inside, there was more to Rick than the doctors knew.

DICK HOYT: They said, 'Forget Rick, put him away, put him in an institution. He's gonna be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life'.

JUDY HOYT: I was absolutely furious. This was my baby and there was no way I was gonna put him anywhere.

LIZ HAYES: His mum, Judy, fought every step of the way to see that Rick was accepted everywhere. Her biggest battle was ensuring Rick received a proper education.

JUDY HOYT: I fought with everybody as far as discrimination and, 'No, you're not going to leave my child out of things, he's gonna do what he's supposed to do'.

LIZ HAYES: They must have thought you were some mother.

JUDY HOYT: Oh, they thought I was whacked!

LIZ HAYES: And that's the way Rick was raised. Not only did he complete school, he went to university and achieved a degree in special education. With his two younger brothers, he was treated like just like any other member of the family. You took him on picnics, you took him on mountain climbing expeditions, you took him everywhere?

DICK HOYT: And we used to take him with the other boys and do everything with him that we were doing with the other boys, yes.

LIZ HAYES: His brother Rob was closest in age to Rick. Russell was the youngest of the Hoyt boys but, growing up, neither offered him any special treatment.

RUSSELL HOYT: I actually have memories of asking other people, like, 'Who in your family's in a wheelchair?' Because that was what it was for us. It was, you know, Rick was always there, he was part of everything we did.

ROB HOYT: If we were building a tree fort out behind our house in the woods, we'd use Rick's wheelchair to carry the tools and push him out there and then if we got tired of doing that project and Rick didn't want us to stop, he'd have a fit and we'd just leave him out in the woods.

LIZ HAYES: Long before his computer allowed Rick to speak, he and Russell developed a simple communication system, splitting up the alphabet and relying on subtle signals from Rick.

LIZ HAYES: Must have been an extraordinary moment when you realised you could communicate with your brother.

RUSSELL HOYT: Yeah, but then he started bossing us around and telling us what to do so it wasn't that much fun.

ROB HOYT: I think Rick himself, graduating from a major university — a non-speaking quadriplegic person to graduate from college — that's just … it still blows my mind.

RICK HOYT: My hope is that by seeing what I can do and listening to my achievements, that all people — especially young people — will realise that I am just like them.

LIZ HAYES: But Rick wasn't satisfied with academic achievements. Always a sports fan, when he was 17 he convinced his dad they should enter a five-mile road run together.

DICK HOYT: When we came across the finish line, Rick had the biggest smile you ever saw in your life. And then when we got home that night, Rick wrote on his computer, 'Dad when I'm running it feels like my disability disappears'. And that was a very powerful message to me because he just — think about it — this is somebody who cannot talk, use their arms or legs and now, by running, the disability disappears.

LIZ HAYES: But again, the Hoyts encountered opposition. It took that same family determination to overcome prejudice from the established running fraternity.

DICK HOYT: Nobody came near us and nobody talked to us and nobody wanted us in the race. Rick and I would go to a different town and a different city every weekend and run and finally people started coming over to us and talking to us and they could see that Rick had a personality and a sense of humour and he loved to be in the middle of running with everybody else.

LIZ HAYES: When Rick participated in these competitions, what did you see change in him?

DICK HOYT: He became a more happy person. You'll see some pictures and slides and he's got his arms up in the air and he's got this big smile on his face.

LIZ HAYES: It's that big smile that still drives you?

DICK HOYT: Right, yes.

LIZ HAYES: It's still an emotional experience for you?

DICK HOYT: Yeah, mm-hmm.

LIZ HAYES: Are you able to articulate to me what it is that brings those tears?

DICK HOYT: Um, I just think, um, it brings a tear because my 'vegetable' is now out there doing — living a great life.

LIZ HAYES: Yeah, it's your son we're talking about. Sorry. Today, Dick and Rick compete with the best of them, running times comparable to elite athletes. In triathlons, Dick tows Rick behind him in a rubber dinghy. For the cycle leg, he rides up-front on specially designed bike.

DICK HOYT: We've gone out and done everything like everybody else. We haven't asked to be special and have them, you know, give us something special they're not gonna give to everybody else. We've been able to go out there and prove that we can do it just like everybody else, even though we're doing it as a father and son team.

LIZ HAYES: Team Hoyt is now a corporate identity with high-profile sponsors. They make appearances all over America and the running never stops. Dick and Rick have set themselves a gruelling schedule — a marathon almost every weekend. But their success has come at a high price. Twelve years ago, the relentless commitment took its toll. The family fractured and Judy left the marriage. Do you see it as an obsession?

JUDY HOYT: Oh God, yes.

LIZ HAYES: On whose behalf?

JUDY HOYT: Dick.

LIZ HAYES: Not Rick?

JUDY HOYT: I don't think so.

LIZ HAYES: You think it's about fame?

JUDY HOYT: Yeah I do, I really do.

LIZ HAYES: And you think it's exploitation and some manipulation of Rick?

JUDY HOYT: Yes I do, I honestly do.

LIZ HAYES: And that's just because it doesn't stop?

JUDY HOYT: Yes.

DICK HOYT: I got a lot of telephone calls and e-mails from other families of people with disabilities and they said, 'What are you doing dragging your son through this? You're just trying to make a name for yourself'. But they didn't know he was dragging his father through these races.

LIZ HAYES: I was going to ask you about that criticism. Is this is not exploitation on any level?

DICK HOYT: I just feel now that Rick is the athlete and I'm out there just loaning him my arms and my legs so we can compete together.

LIZ HAYES: Team Hoyt is a household name and viewed as an inspirational around the country. You're saying it's far from that?

JUDY HOYT: If you know the truth.

LIZ HAYES: Alright, so the truth is what?

JUDY HOYT: I think the truth is that Dick uses Rick to feed his own ego.

RICK HOYT: To tell you the truth, it was my idea to begin running with my dad. I do see my role as the inspiration of Team Hoyt. Also, I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness that I could show that life goes on beyond disability.

LIZ HAYES: What everyone does agree upon is that Rick and his father are an inspiration. But, at 66, and having recently suffered a heart attack, even Dick's own family question how long this can go on.

DICK HOYT: I don't think Rick would wanna continue competing when I pass away. Rick says that we're a team. We started out as a team and that's the way we do things — as a team.

LIZ HAYES: So when you know that you can no longer do this that will be it?

DICK HOYT: Well, maybe Rick will say, 'I don't wanna do it'.

LIZ HAYES: Or when Rick decides he doesn't want to do it?

DICK HOYT: He doesn't wanna do it, that'll be it.

LIZ HAYES: That will be it.

DICK HOYT: That will be it. Yes.

LIZ HAYES: Is that a day you're prepared for?

DICK HOYT: Uh, that's hard to say. I won't know until that day comes, yeah. I just think that we've got a long way to go yet.

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