WESTFIELD, MASS. — THE iron man has the softest heart.
It is one of two axioms to pin to Dick Hoyt, the muscular, indefatigable father of Rick, the young man now seated and strapped into a specially built bicycle that his father is pedaling from Santa Monica, Calif., to Boston in 45 days.
The second axiom is the iron man has the toughest heart, too.
The bicycle and the two Hoyts weigh 350 pounds. The distance is 3,200 miles, much of it not at all flat. They have pedaled through rain, snow, heat of 122 degrees F. in Nevada, savage crosswinds in the Rockies and on Tuesday of this week, they are riding through misty cold as Hoyt pedals into western Massachusetts headed for a gala reception in Boston today at Fenway Park and City Hall.
Almost 30 years ago, when Rick was born and diagnosed as having cerebral palsy, Hoyt and his wife, Judy, were told their son would be a "vegetable," and should be institutionalized.
With the help of a minister, the Hoyts lifted themselves up and out of despair with a life-changing decision. They would embrace Rick within a family that loved and worked to have their son included in a life as full as possible. They would do this not only for Rick's sake, but to help pave the way for all the disabled in a society often uncomfortable with "different" people.
So, for the last 13 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed, pedaled, and pulled Rick through an astonishing 65 marathons, 76 triathlons [including the Hawaii Iron Man Triathlon], and more than 450 road races.
In what may be the athletic understatement of all time, Hoyt says, "I think we've broken a few barriers." At first denied entry into the Boston Marathon because they didn't fit into a category, the two now regularly run the race.
There is a triple purpose to their trip across the the US: to add it to their list of accomplishments; to raise money to help businesses and facilities build entrances, ramps, and doorways for the disabled; and probably write a book about the experience. At several places along the way ABC-TV Sports has filmed the trip to be shown nationally in late August.
After pedaling since 6 a.m. this morning through a rural highway in western Massachusetts, Hoyt stops in a city park in Westfield, the stopping point for lunch. He is barely breathing heavily or perspiring. "Frankly," he says, laughing, "I'm going to have to slow down a little so we don't arrive in Boston too early."
Behind him the Hoyt entourage for the trip arrives including a 29-foot motor home and a smaller support van that follows close behind the bicycle on the road. Linda Reichert, a volunteer muscular therapist on the trip, says, "Dick is on a mission; he is absolutely driven by what he does with Rick. It is wonderful to see."
"It was Rick who started all this," says Judy Hoyt. "Rick wanted to be part of a special foot race in high school, so Dick ran and pushed him in a wheelchair. They finished next to last, but at home Rick typed on his computer, `Dad, when I'm out running, I feel like I'm not even handicapped." [Rick is now a senior at Boston University majoring in education].
To Dick, an executive officer in the Air National Guard, this was all he needed to move into action and begin running with Rick. The Hoyts two other sons have been involved, too, over the years in planning and supporting Dick's and Rick's efforts.
"We thought we had three sponsors for the trip," says Hoyt, standing by the bicycle, "but for one reason or another they pulled out. So we refinanced our house and got about $70,000. Etonic shoes helped us with a few thousand, and XRE, a small Massachusetts company, has been generous to us as well as other people."
When he began in Santa Monica, Dick had been so busy with last-minute details that he had forgotten to eat. "Thirty miles outside of L.A., I got a little woozy," he says, "and ate some food." During all the hours of pedaling, Dick relieves the boredom by "thinking about my family," he says. "I remember all the good times we've had together and how fortunate we are." And he talks to Rick.
Despite predictions to the contrary by well-meaning friends, the trip has gone smoothly. "We have met some beautiful people all the way," says Dick. "In West Virginia, a car full of teenagers pulled up alongside us, and I thought, here comes trouble, but they spoke to Rick and said he was doing a great thing, and to keep it up."
Next on the horizon for the Hoyts is a trip through Japan, then Russia, then....