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The Wheels Of Life
Gary Smith
April 18, 2011
Over the past 33 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed, pulled and carried his disabled son, Rick, through more than 1,000 road races and triathlons, including 28 Boston Marathons. But as time bears down on them, how much longer can they keep it up?
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April 18, 2011

The Wheels Of Life

Over the past 33 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed, pulled and carried his disabled son, Rick, through more than 1,000 road races and triathlons, including 28 Boston Marathons. But as time bears down on them, how much longer can they keep it up?

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For the 1,036th time, the 70-year-old man and his spastic quadriplegic son await the starting gun's crack. It's a Good Life! say the big letters on the two larger wheels on their racing chair. But neither man can be sure those words aren't a lie when they're still, and gather truth only in counterclockwise motion.

The race director introduces them—Rick and Dick Hoyt!—and the spectators and 582 runners roar. It's September 2010. Breathe in. Breathe out. The old man's just hoping he can do that all the way to the finish line, that the pillow doesn't come down over his mouth and nostrils again. The gun sounds, and they're rolling: It's a Good Life!... It's a Good Life! ... It's a Good Life! ...

Curse the potholes in the streets of Worcester, Massachusetts. Twenty feet into the Canal Diggers 5K the ruts are jolting the chair, banging Rick's fragile body and making the front wheel crazy. Dick swerves to avoid the potholes, doesn't notice the front tire going flat and slipping off the hub, and they begin gathering speed: It'saGoodLife!It'saGoodLife!It'saGoodLife! ...

The grind of metal on macadam finally reaches his ears. Two hundred yards into the race the old man murmurs an oath and veers onto the sidewalk. He halts and stares at their motionless chair.

The wheels are coming off Team Hoyt. Even Dick's friends and loved ones tell him it's time to face facts: The kid in the chair just had a feeding tube plugged into his gut because liquids keep invading his lungs and increasing the risk of pneumonia. The kid's back is killing him, crying for more surgery because the three rods in it can't keep his spine straight anymore, even when he's not bouncing for hours across roads. Hell, the kid's not a kid anymore, Dick; in nine months he'll be 50. And what about the pusher himself? What about the doctor who says Dick worries so much that he's a stroke waiting to happen? What about the three stents implanted in his arteries after the heart attack in 2003, the carpal tunnel syndrome keeping him awake at night after shoving the chair through nearly 3½ decades of races, the legs so agonizingly tight from pulling and pushing his son through all those 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons, triathlons and Ironmans that he tore his meniscus in December, needed surgery in January and ripped a hamstring in his comeback race in March, reducing his training for this Monday's Boston Marathon to hours of trudging in a swimming pool ... and did Dick happen to glance in a mirror at the end of last year's Boston Marathon? Did he see that frightening gray pall?

I told him, that's it, Dick, enough. You've done enough. Cripes, time to pack it in! That's one of his buddies, Pat Forrest.

His body's breaking down. The last couple of Boston Marathons, I didn't think he would finish. He can't go through every barrier. He's walking the fine line between gutsy and foolish. That's the director of the Boston Marathon, Dave McGillivray.

I don't think either of them will make the choice in the end. An outside force will make it. That's the Hoyts' masseuse, Roseanne Longo.

Half the family thinks he's crazy. Dick's sister Arlene.

I don't go to races anymore. I don't want to be there the day it all ends. I don't want to see him lying on that street. Another sister, Barbara.

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