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They don't need to race anymore, says Ron Robb. They have a legacy: They're the center of the disabled universe.
So why—if the legacy no longer needed legs—did last April's Boston Marathon have to be finished? Why did it have to turn into hours of terror for Kathy after she heard reports that Dick was struggling, and none of the friends watching along the course whom she called had seen any sign of Dick and Rick, and the website that tracks each runner's progress inexplicably showed no trace of them?
She broke into tears finally, because anything could happen to a man who'd suffered a mild heart attack during a half marathon in 2003 but didn't find out till four half marathons later, when he discovered that he had inherited the high-cholesterol disorder that had killed his father with a stroke. Anything could happen to a man who was all set to run the Boston Marathon two weeks after having three stents implanted, pulling out only when the cholesterol-reducing medication created so much muscle pain he could barely walk. Anything could happen to a man who broke his nose seven times playing high school football and came right back for an eighth. A man who refused to take ibuprofen or aspirin, no matter how crippling his pain, because, I figure you get helped by pain.
Finally, 5½ hours after the start of the Boston Marathon, Team Hoyt crossed the finish line, Dick ashen, dizzy and awash in sweat. Twenty-five minutes into the race, it turned out, he could barely draw a breath. Then came stabbing gut pains. He'd been warned by his cardiologist that difficulty breathing could be a sign that the stents had failed or that another artery had closed. He tried to run again, felt as if he were going to pass out and ended up walking half of the race, gasping and wondering what was happening to him.
But he couldn't stop. Because now, Dick sensed, Team Hoyt had morphed into something far more than a man's obligation to a task, or to his son.
We run. We push. They are.
Rick's headrest flies off his chair a half mile into what's now just a two-man race. Dick runs back, grabs it and tucks it back behind his son's head. There it goes again a quarter mile later. Hell with it, decides Dick.
Devotion is a cocktail, not a jigger of anything straight. A dash of stubbornness and helplessness laced with a splash of compulsiveness and unawareness poured into a shaker, along with two fingers of deep love and sorrow ... but who has the time or patience for the list of ingredients when he's driving past that one-word caption on the billboard, or welling up as Dick cradles that kid and staggers with him from the boat to the bike as I Can Only Imagine crescendos on YouTube?
They're still all alone on the course at the halfway point, traffic cops and race officials clapping as they go by, cars honking and runners who've already finished, on their way home, calling, "Go, Team Hoyt, go!"
Dick's feeling his way through each mile, moving at an 8½-minute clip now that his hamstrings and quads have tightened to the snapping point and require hours of rehab and massage each week. Still hoping he can trust the battery of recent test results that found nothing wrong with his vital organs, still hoping that his difficulty drawing a full breath is a sinus problem he can remedy. But how does a guy like him ever know if all this stiffness and pain and shortness of breath are God closing down the show, or just one more obstacle to barge through?