Yes, You Can!

“The best thing that has happened to me in my life has come from handling the worst that has happened to me in my life.”
– Dick Hoyt, 1940-2021

1,130 endurance events. 72 marathons and 6 Ironman Triathlons. To any athlete, it would be a list of incredible accomplishments. To Dick Hoyt and his son Rick, it was even more.

Rick was born with spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy. The doctors told Rick’s parents that he wouldn’t have much quality of life and would never be able to speak or walk. The doctors said Rick should be put in a special needs facility.

“We can do it,” his parents said, refusing to leave him behind.

When school administrators said there was no place for Rick, his parents found someone to build a computer that could write Rick’s thoughts, using the few head movements he could make.

“We can solve it,” his parents said, refusing to leave him behind.

In high school, Rick heard about a 5-mile benefit run for a classmate who had recently become paralyzed. Rick told his father they needed to do something to send a message that life goes on. Dick had never been a runner, but he didn’t hesitate. 

“We can run together,” Dick said, refusing to leave Rick behind.

Dick ran the race, pushing Rick’s wheelchair the entire way. They finished next to last.

When they came home, Rick got on his computer and spelled out to his father, “When I’m running, it feels like my disability disappears.”

That was the beginning. After their initial 5-mile run, Dick began running every day, pushing a bag of cement in a wheelchair when Rick was at school and unable to train with him.

They kept going as a team, completing more and more races and breaking barriers for inclusion in sports. During the swim portion of the Ironman Triathlon, Dick pulled his son in an inflatable boat that was tied to his body. Their customized bike had a seat for Rick on the handlebars.

Reflecting on his experience, Dick said he never felt like he was the one competing. Rather, he felt like Rick was competing and he was just loaning Rick his legs.

“Rick was always out front,” his father said. He was never left behind. 

Dick Hoyt died last week. People placed flowers and cards near the bronze statue of the Hoyts that stands near the Boston Marathon starting line. The plaque below it reads, “Yes, You Can!” 

When times are hard and we feel like taking one more step will break us, we can remember the persistence of Dick Hoyt and remind ourselves, “Yes… I can!”

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.