In 1972 I completed my Fine Arts degree from Westfield State College (now Westfield State University). Ready to conquer the world, I set out to be an art teacher at the elementary level. It was exciting to land a job in my hometown.
The position involved "running" (well. not really) from school to school and teaching the art curriculum at Kindergarten through fifth-grade levels. I was assigned three schools in the district, which numbered about 1000 kids in a two-week rotation.
This story involves one of those schools and one particular young boy.
Fort Meadow Elementary. Shortly after the school year started, a group of people and the classroom teacher of one of the fourth grades met me at the door to tell me there would be a new "special needs" student who was being mainstreamed into the classroom. He came into the classroom accompanied by the para-educator assisting his side. I had all the usual feelings: What were his issues? What could he do? What would I have to do? I was filled with some fear and apprehension.
Rick Hoyt was wheeled in and brought to the back of the room. Over time, I slowly got to know him. The classroom teacher explained that his wheelchair was "state-of-the-art." The chair had a computer that allowed him to "tap out his answers" on the foot pedals, and his teachers would translate. Some students figured out the codes and used Rick as their "cheat sheet" on math problems.
My typical art curriculum involved drawing, painting, crayons, chalk, cut and paste, and other two-dimensional projects. Every so often, I would throw in more unique lessons. On this day, we were making "pinch pots" with real clay, not Play-Doh. The process involves giving each student a hand-sized clump of clay. They would then roll it into a smooth ball, poke in their thumbs, and begin to form a little pot. Finally, they would draw their initials on the bottom, and these would be taken to another school where they would be fired and dried in a pottery kiln and later painted in a ceramic glaze.
I started giving out the clay, and the classroom became alive with excitement. I demonstrated the technique and began to pass out the clay chunks. Ricky was the last of the students that I approached as he waited patiently with his para-helper. I took Ricky's hands and plopped the clay into them. He immediately screeched at a level that could be heard three classrooms down the hall.
I was horrified and concerned that I had upset him. Then, I got closer to him and looked at his face. It was bright with enthusiasm, and he was grinning ear to ear. I couldn't believe it. I had made a connection with Rick that would last the rest of my life. For the first time (probably the last), I left the rest of my students alone and spent the rest of this time working with Ricky.
Who is Ricky Hoyt?
Five years later, he and his dad would run a fundraiser for a local lacrosse player paralyzed in an accident. When it was over, Rick told his father: "Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped." Together, they are a running duo known worldwide. Together Dick and Rick Hoyt have inspired the running community to beat the odds.
Dick and Rick have done countless triathlons and iron-man races and competed in 32 Boston Marathon events. Yes. Team Hoyt was there when the Boston bombing caused such heartache in the annual event of 2013. The two were two miles from the finish line when the police patrol stopped them and told them what had happened. Dick was concerned about others on the Team and that they might be at the finish line. All were safe, and the rest of the team had finished. What a terrible scare for all who were impacted by this tragedy.
In 2015, I decided that I would like to reunite with both Rick and Dick in Rick's apartment in Massachusetts. We remembered a lot of stories about Rick and laughed at his antics. My husband took several photographs, and later, I drew an image of both in charcoal pencil. It hangs on the "wall of memories" in Rick's apartment.
As I write these memories, the world has learned that Dick Hoyt has passed. CNN ESPN;s Twitter account and The Boston Globe are among the media platforms posting stories about this sports icon. The tributes are flowing in from all over the world. Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt have inspired the running communities but also families who have had their lives positively impacted by the courage and determination of these two. "Yes, [absolutely] You Can."
A group of runners, sports commentators, and athletes honor Team Hoyt in this tribute video (30 minutes):
It's an honor that my own life has been impacted by these two. My story above is among the many shared by others in the book, One Letter at a Time by Dick and Rick Hoyt and my friend, Todd Civin.
Books on the Hoyts are available on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I will earn a small commission for your purchase at no additional cost. I am among the contributors to this book, One Letter at a Time by Rick and Dick Hoyt, with Todd Civin. It's a story every runner should read.
An additional source here for One Letter at a Time and other book offerings.
Search "Team Hoyt" on YouTube, and you will find videos on the Hoyt family.