When Doctors Say Your Child Will be ‘a Vegetable’

When Doctors Say Your Child Will be ‘a Vegetable’

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teamhoytDick and Rick Hoyt are a father-and-son team competing in nearly continuous marathon races. And if they’re not in a marathon they’re competing in a grueling triathlon — a remarkable record of exertion, but all the more powerful when you consider that one half of the team cannot walk or talk.

For the past 25 years Dick, who is 65, has pushed his son, Rick, severely disabled since birth, across hundreds of finish lines to impart to him the feeling of being a participant in sports. It began with an accident at birth and a proclamation that the boy would be “a vegetable” for the rest of his life. The father refused to believe it, and instead, provided every chance for the child to disprove it for himself…

The word can’t does not appear in this family’s vocabulary.

In high school Rick communicated that he wanted to participate in a five-mile benefit run for a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. One problem. Rick could barely move even his head in a wheelchair. Dick was overweight and out of shape, never having run more than a mile in his life. How could he push his son five miles? Well, he tried, and they hobbled across the finish line eventually. That day changed Rick’s life. He told his family that the feeling of being handicapped left him, while we was competing with his dad.

Rick’s realization turned into a whole new set of horizons that opened up for him and his family, as “Team Hoyt” began to compete in more and more events.

Dick had never learned to swim, yet they started training and racing together in triathlons.

“Whenever we are passed (usually on the bike) the athlete will say “Go for it!” or “Rick, help your Dad!” When we pass people (usually on the run) they’ll say “Go Team Hoyt!” or “If not for you, we would not be out here doing this.”

Most of all, perhaps, the Hoyts can see an impact from their efforts in the area of the handicapped, and on public attitudes toward the physically and mentally challenged.

“That’s the big thing,” said Dick. “People just need to be educated. Rick is helping many other families coping with disabilities in their struggle to be included.”

Rick’s own accomplishments, quite apart from the duo’s continuing athletic success, have included his moving on from high school to Boston University, where he graduated in 1993 with a degree in special education.

Rick communicates through pecking letters on a screen with a special type pad using motions with his head.

Rick now works at Boston College’s computer laboratory helping to develop a system codenamed Eagle Eyes, through which mechanical aids (like a powered wheelchair) could be controlled by a paralyzed person’s eye-movements, when linked-up to a computer.

Together the Hoyts don’t only compete athletically; they also go on motivational speaking tours, spreading the Hoyt brand of inspiration to all kinds of audiences, sporting and non-sporting, across the country.

Rick himself is confident that his visibility — and his father’s dedication — perform a forceful, valuable purpose in a world that is too often divisive and exclusionary. He typed a simple parting thought:

“The message of Team Hoyt is that everybody should be included in everyday life.”

Portions of the story taken from the Team Hoyt Web site written by David Tereshchuk, a documentary television producer, who currently works for the United Nations (Full Story on the Who We Are page)

Watch this inspiring video in which, during one of their triathlon competitions, Dick hauls Rick from the boat to the bike, and on to the finish line. Notice Rick’s famous smile and the liveliness in his eyes that told his family at a very early age that there was indeed a whole person inside…


  1. My son is my inspiration!
    As a father of a son with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I can understand the pain that Dick Hoyt has gone through. You are often told not to expect as much from a child with a ââ?¬Å?disabilityââ?¬ï? as you should from a ââ?¬Å?normalââ?¬ï? child. Well they are wrong, my son has made an incredible amount of progress in a year and a half, going from not speaking at all to speaking all the time and learning every day. My wife and I fought hard to get my son the services he needed like speech therapy and occupational therapy, child psychology and full day kindergarten with an experienced teacher in Autism disorders. My son has taught me more about life than any book or TV show, he is my inspiration. Thank you Dick and Rick Hoyt for proving the world wrong and showing us all that every child should be included every day in all activities.