Strongest Dad in the World

[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay
for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.

But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he’s pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in
marathons. Eight times he’s not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a
wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and
pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars–all in the same

Dick’s also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back
mountain climbing. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame,

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much–except save his life.

This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick
was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him
brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

“He’ll be a vegetable the rest of his life;” Dick says doctors told
him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. “Put him in an

But the Hoyts weren’t buying it. They noticed the way Rick’s eyes
followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the
engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was
anything to help the boy communicate. “No way,” Dick says he was
told. “There’s nothing going on in his brain.”

“Tell him a joke,” Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out
a lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed
him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his
head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? “Go Bruins!”
And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the
school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, “Dad, I want
to do that.”

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described “porker” who never ran
more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still,
he tried. “Then it was me who was handicapped,” Dick says. “I was sore for
two weeks.”

That day changed Rick’s life. “Dad,” he typed, “when we were
running, it felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore!”

And that sentence changed Dick’s life. He became obsessed with giving
Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly
shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.
“No way,” Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren’t quite
a single runner, and they weren’t quite a wheelchair competitor. For a
few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then
they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran
another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the
following year.

Then somebody said, “Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?”

How’s a guy who never learned to swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since
he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still,
Dick tried.

Now they’ve done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour
Ironmans in Hawaii. It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud
getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don’t you

Hey, Dick, why not see how you’d do on your own? “No way,” he says.
Dick does it purely for “the awesome feeling” he gets seeing Rick
with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston
Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their
best time’? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992–only 35 minutes off the world
record, which, in case you don’t keep track of these things, happens
to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at
the time.

“No question about it,” Rick types. “My dad is the Father of the Century.”

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had
a mild heart attack arteries was 95% clogged. “If you hadn’t been in
such great shape,” one doctor told him, “you probably would’ve died 15
years ago.”

So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other’s life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in
Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass.,
always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and
compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this
Father’s Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really
wants to give him is a gift he can never buy. `The thing I’d most like,”
Rick types, “is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.”