When it’s time to talk about New England sports heroes, the names that immediately jump to mind are Ted Williams, Bill Russell, Bobby Orr and Tom Brady.
Here’s another one for the list: Dick Hoyt.
Hoyt, of course, was the elder member of the father-son Team Hoyt, a constant, inspiring presence at the Boston Marathon and other major road races for more than three decades. Hoyt died of heart failure March 17 at his home outside Springfield. He was 80 years old.
The images are indelible: The wiry Hoyt, a retired Marine, pushing his son Rick in a racing wheelchair along the bruising Boston course for 26.2 miles. The team weaving around the crowd of racers at the humid, historic Falmouth Road Race, and on chilly Thanksgiving mornings at Shawsheen Square in Andover. Dick Hoyt knifing through the waters off Hawaii pulling Rick behind him in an inflatable raft during the Ironman Triathlon.
Team Hoyt didn’t just run the more than 1,000 races they lined up for, they competed. The team’s best marathon time — 2:40:47 in the Marine Corps Marathon — is one most runners only dream of achieving.
For Dick Hoyt, the time on the road was more an act of love than athleticism. Team Hoyt got its start in 1977 when a 15-year-old Rick Hoyt, who was born with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, told his father he wanted to participate in a 5-mile race aimed at raising money for a high school lacrosse player who had become paralyzed in an accident.
Dick pushed Rick in his wheelchair for the entire five miles. The duo finished second from last, but an important connection was made.
“When I’m running, I don’t feel disabled,” Rick told his father.
Thus Team Hoyt was born. Before Dick retired from racing in 2014, the duo registered 72 marathons (32 Bostons), 257 triathlons and 37 Falmouth appearances among their more than 1,000 races. They were an inspiration to their fellow runners, and to the public at large.
Together, the team launched the nonprofit Hoyt Foundation, which aims to build self-confidence and self-esteem in disabled young people. Dick Hoyt traveled the world as a public speaker, combining paid appearances with free talks at local schools.
“He helped open the door to people believing in themselves, and the walls of intimidation crumbled,” longtime Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray told the Boston Globe.
It’s a legacy that should inspire us all.