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The Wheels Of Life
Gary Smith
April 18, 2011
Over the past 33 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed, pulled and carried his disabled son, Rick, through more than 1,000 road races and triathlons, including 28 Boston Marathons. But as time bears down on them, how much longer can they keep it up?
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April 18, 2011

The Wheels Of Life

Over the past 33 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed, pulled and carried his disabled son, Rick, through more than 1,000 road races and triathlons, including 28 Boston Marathons. But as time bears down on them, how much longer can they keep it up?

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They've whittled back on the long races in their yearly schedule, but Dick still wants to do half Ironmans and is mulling another Trek Across America, and how can they ever let go of the 26.2-mile rolling roar that accompanies them through the Boston Marathon? After all, Dick's cardiologist told him he'd have been dead 15 years ago, with cholesterol that high, if hauling his son preposterous distances hadn't gotten him into such remarkable condition. What happens if he stops? So yes, remember to garnish that cocktail with a sprig of fear. And remember that each of the Hoyts owes the other his life.

The e-mails have begun to arrive, people who've heard that Dick's body is breaking down, volunteering to replace him. Among them are three female triathletes, making Rick's heart flutter—Dad is always around at races, and I can't tell him to get lost when I encounter a beautiful woman, he laments—but Dick shakes his head, knowing the strength it takes to carry Rick in the transitions or to pedal 189 extra pounds of bike and human cargo up those hills, the concentration to keep from hitting railroad tracks or stray water bottles that have sent the both of them flying.

They're nearing the mile 3 marker of the 5K race and beginning to pick off the stragglers. They pass a little girl, a lumbering woman in her 50s and two elderly men. But somehow their races have become less of a competition between Team Hoyt and the field ... and more of one between Rick and Dick. Who'll cry uncle first: the father or the son?

Not the father: We'll continue till Rick says he's had enough.

Not the son: Stopping now is not an option. I'm not ready to throw in the towel and I pray to God every day that Dad is not ready either. Birds are free to fly anywhere they want at anytime, which is how I feel when we race. There are so many people who want to see us out there. I love the spotlight.... I have shown disabled people that they don't have to sit back and watch the world go by.... To this day, I don't know what kind of vegetable I'm supposed to be.

They pass seven other runners and keep accelerating as they enter a corridor of cheering fans in the final 50 yards. Courage, that's what it took to begin this journey 33 years ago and stay on it. Will it take even more to end it?

It will be the saddest time of my life, types Rick. I choose not to think about it. It will mean Dad passed away.

I envision them going off a cliff in some race and disappearing, like Thelma and Louise, says Rob.

It'll be harder to stop than keep going, says Dick. I don't think we're at the end ... but it could be ... if I can't breathe better....

They cross the finish line. Runners and spectators surround them, shaking hands, stroking Rick, kissing them and saying, "God bless you and your son." It's a Good Life! say the letters on the motionless hubs. Can they bear it?

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