The Loss of a Legend

The term “Legend” is probably as over-used these days as “Epic” or “Viral”. “That party was epic!” Everything on social media, is viral. It seems not a day goes by that someone isn’t tagged as a legend. Like lowering the flag of the United States to half-mast, some honors and titles should be reserved for the truly deserving. If we were to sparingly use terms like legend for when we really mean it, the world might pause in their daily comings and goings when they hear a legend was lost.

Yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day, the world lost a man truly deserving of the title LEGEND. It was announced that Dick Hoyt died in his sleep. Mention Dick Hoyt’s name in the company of endurance athletes of all levels and the response will be one of universal respect and admiration. His name, or at least the Team Hoyt story, was known far beyond the endurance community. Marathoners and triathletes can and do talk incessantly with great passion about their sports and seldom does the non-participant have the vaguest idea what they are talking about. (Nor do they usually care.) But they will ask when allowed to get a word in “Did you see that guy that pushes his son in the wheelchair at the Boston Marathon?”.

Dick and Rick crossing the finish at Boston in 3:43. That’s more than 10 minutes faster than my best Boston and I wasn’t pushing a full-sized adult in a wheel chair.

Racing is hard. Especially events like a marathon or long-course triathlon. I have friends that have done dozens to hundreds of both. If you’ve followed this blog you know I’ve done my fair share. The idea of dragging oneself through 26.2 miles of a marathon or 140.6 miles of an Ironman is extremely daunting. In 2010 when I did my first marathon in Richmond the idea of my legs carrying me the length of the event was, at best, intimidating. It seemed impossible. But I’d met Dick Hoyt and heard his story. By the time I heard the starting gun at Richmond, Dick had pushed his adult son Rick in a wheel chair through 29 Boston Marathons and hundred of other events. He and Rick also completed the Ironman World Championship in Kona twice!

Dick and Rick at Kona

Think about that for a moment. Ironman Kona is iconic. When you say you are a triathlete people instantly ask “Have you done the race in Hawaii?”. For most of us, the skill and talent to reach Kona is far beyond our ability. It is the world championship. The best racers from the world over are there. It is hot, humid, hilly, and windy. It is one of the hardest triathlons there is. Many great athletes have gone to Kona and never seen the finish line. Dick Hoyt completed it twice after towing his adult son in a raft on the swim, pedaling him on their custom bike, and then pushing him through the baking lava fields of Kona for 26.2 miles. Truly legendary!

Can you do this on your bike?

I got to race with Dick and Rick at least twice toward the end of his running days. The last was at the Shamrock Marathon and I had the opportunity to run along with the 70 year old Dick as he pushed Rick. Until then, I didn’t get why it was so important for Dick to get his son out on the race course. What difference did it make? As I passed Rick, he raised his hand and gave me a cerebral palsy twisted smile. At that moment, I understood. Dick’s family could have chosen the easy route and just kept Rick at home staring at the walls. They could have hired special help to take care of him and unburden themselves from his care. Dick could have gone by himself and probably kicked everyone’s ass and been an elite racer had he chosen to do so. But the one small thing he could do for his son was to involve him in his life and with the wonderful endurance community. In so doing he inspired a world of athletes to try a little harder and not give up.

Dick and Rick inspiring everyone including the elite!

That encounter was a life changing moment for me. Until then, I measured my success in racing by the time on the clock or my placement in the standings. Until then, I took for granted the ability to step out my door anytime I wanted and set out on a run or a bike ride. I took for granted the simple act of crossing the finish line under my own power and hearing the shrill beep of the timing mat. There were many times I’d grimace and feel disappointment at the time on the clock as I crossed. But no more. Obviously any athlete wants to post a good result, but after my encounter with Dick & Rick Hoyt, I simply relish the ability to cross that line on my own two feet. There are thousands of people like Rick Hoyt who would happily give up the rest of their lives to simply walk across that line just once on their own. That will never happen for Rick and most others in his situation but thanks to his loving dad, he’s gotten to experience the thunderous, hair-raising cheers at finish lines the world over.

Now this is a Legend!

Yesterday was a busy workday. I spent it updating spreadsheets and presentations, sitting in on endless meetings, and handling other “important” administrivia deemed essential by my job. I really didn’t pay attention to social media or any other news source. This morning, hot cup of coffee in hand, I finally learned of Dick’s passing. I’m not one to get terribly emotional about death. It is part of life, and none of us are getting out of life alive, but when I saw that Dick had passed it is the saddest I’ve been about a death since my own dad died. Dick will truly be missed by myself, the endurance community, and no-doubt most of all by his son Rick.

Rest in peace Dick. Your’s was truly a life well lived.

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