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Remembering Dick Hoyt, Who Pushed His Son In A Wheelchair Over Marathon Finish Lines

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to take the next couple of minutes to mark the passing of one-half the legendary running duo known as Team Hoyt. Dick Hoyt died on Wednesday. He was 80.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

He became an icon in the sports world while pushing his son, Rick, who's a quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, across the finish line of more than a thousand races. The pair cleared their first finish line after the younger Hoyt heard about a benefit run to help with hospital costs for a paralyzed lacrosse player at a local state college, as Dick Hoyt told a local TV station in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICK HOYT: 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.

CORNISH: Hoyt was 40 at the time and only ran a couple of miles each week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D HOYT: And it was a 5-mile race. And the gun went off, and Rick and I took off with all the other runners. Well, everybody thought Rick and I would go to the corner and turn around and come back. Well, we didn't. We finished the whole 5 miles coming in next to last but not last (laughter).

CORNISH: That experience opened up a whole new world for the younger Hoyt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D HOYT: We get home that night. Rick 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 can't talk, use their arms and their legs and now they're out there running.

CHANG: Three years later, Team Hoyt completed the first of 32 Boston marathons. And it grew from there. Rick wanted to compete in triathlons, which added cycling and swimming. And the father and son set their sights on the most grueling of competitions - the Ironman. But the organization initially would not let them compete together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D HOYT: They said, Dick, you're a good athlete. You can compete, but your disabled son has to sit in the sidelines and watch you. And I said, no, we don't do things that way.

CORNISH: In the years since Rick and his father competed in the Ironman, the competition has added a physically challenged division to the event.

CHANG: In 2013, a bronze statue of the pair was placed near the Boston Marathon starting line in Hopkinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D HOYT: Fifty-one years ago, Rick was born. And the doctor 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. We still haven't figured out what kind of vegetable he is.

(LAUGHTER)

D HOYT: But today I'm very proud that we're going to be honoring Rick with this bronze statue over here.

CHANG: The same year, both Hoyts were honored with an ESPY award, and Rick Hoyt helped his father accept the honor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK HOYT: Because my dad said yes when I asked him to push me in the first race. Even with so many people telling us that we did not belong, we are here.

CORNISH: Team Hoyt most definitely did belong. Their passion and dedication showed so many other people living with disabilities that they, too, belong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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