This father and son team, hailed as “inspirational” by US president Barrack Obama, hit Irish shores, the Wild Atlantic Way, and the boreens of West Cork over the weekend, encouraging hundreds of other runners in a Saturday series of races in Courtmacsherry to see past handicaps and their limits, whether self-imposed or otherwise.
Dick Hoyt, now aged in his 70s and retired from the US military, forms a dynamic and driven double act with his son Rick, who’s in his early 50s, has spastic quadraplegia cerebral palsy, and communicates and jokes via a computer-aided voicer.
Under the uplifting banner of Team Hoyt, with the Obama-like slogan ‘Yes You Can,’ and using a specially designed assisted athlete’s running chair, the duo have competed in 1,100 races, from half marathons to full marathons, as well as six ironman events worldwide, raising millions of dollars for charities. They also crossed the US, coast to coast, running and cycling, in 45 days.
On the road with Team Hoyt at Courtmacsherry marathon passing beyond Timoleague Abbey pic.twitter.com/4nz6w3CXJ9— Martin Walsh (@MwmsportWalsh) July 25, 2015
For triathlons, Dick pushes Rick in his adapted three-wheel chair, tows him in a dinghy for the swims, and puts him in pride of place on an adapted bike’s handlebars for the cycles.
And, on Saturday, on their first visit to Ireland, their 26-mile marathon lap of honour around West Cork was another walk in the park.
Dick started off the Saturday marathon as a guest of honour, then gave over the reins to a series of Irish volunteers doing their own 26-mile run, to have the privilege of pairing Rick in his chair on yet another challenge.
“It was the first time that’s happened like that, it’s specially for Ireland,” admitted Team Hoyt, adding that they had laughed throughout their five-day visit to this country.
Team Hoyt was encouraged to visit Ireland after Clonakilty and Courtmacsherry marathon organisers Bob and Maria Hilliard met them at the bomb-struck Boston Marathon in 2013, and were moved by their humanity.
“It’s humbling to see what these people have achieved, it puts everything else into perspective,” admitted Bob Hilliard, who worked for two years to bring the team over the Atlantic. Dick’s last full marathon was Boston last year, entitled to take things a bit more easy after running tens of thousands of miles with sports-mad Rick: there is now a bronze-cast statue to them both in Boston.
On Saturday, Team Hoyt rolled the roads around scenic Courtmacsherry, to rapturous acclaim, and lots of good humour, having given two public talks and slide shows in Clonakilty the two preceding evenings, and where Rick elicited laughs saying he had to watch his cake and candy intake to keep his weight down for the sake of his pushers… though he admits to being partial to a slimming vodka and cranberry juice.
The legendary Team Hoyt at the Marathon in Courtmacsherry, West Cork. pic.twitter.com/vjdmZxEHuH— Martin Walsh (@MwmsportWalsh) July 25, 2015
Marathon participants included Irish wheelchair marathon legend Jerry Forde, and 18-year old Aaron Kerr, a young man clearly inspired by Team Hoyt, Using an identical Hoyt chair, Aaron races with the assistance of his parents David and Sandra Kerr, under the banner of Team Kerr, and they raise funds for a Belfast hospital where Aaron had a kidney transplant four years ago, with dad David as donor.
The family now help supply Hoyt chairs for assisted athletes in Ireland and the UK — clearly, a ‘Yes, You Can’ baton has been passed across the Atlantic.