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Dick and Rick Hoyt: The power of the love between a father and a son

Dick and Rick Hoyt became an institution within the institution that is the Boston Marathon, and at races and triathlons all over the world, a life-affirming reminder that love conquers all barriers.

Dick Hoyt with his sons Robert, Rick, and Russell and grandson Jayme.
Dick Hoyt with his sons Robert, Rick, and Russell and grandson Jayme.O'BRIEN, Frank GLOBE STAFF

About 40 years ago, Dave McGillivray was cruising along at a nice pace, half-way through the Falmouth Road Race, when he did a double-take.

“There was this guy, pushing a little boy in a wheelchair, and they ran up right beside me,” said McGillivray, the running impresario and longtime race director of the Boston Marathon. “I’d never seen anything like it before.”

It was Dick Hoyt, pushing his son, Rick, a quadriplegic living with cerebral palsy.

McGillivray’s initial reaction was to feel the warm glow of inspiration.

His second reaction, as an intense competitor, was more visceral.

“I didn’t want to let them beat me,” he said.

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But they did. On those final punishing hills in Falmouth Heights, the Hoyts pushed forward and McGillivray had to settle for the start of a beautiful friendship.

After the race, McGillivray sought Dick Hoyt out. McGillivray had only recently started his race and event-organizing business, founding the Bay State Triathlon in his native Medford. He asked Dick if he had ever considered doing a triathlon.

“Sure,” Dick replied, “as long as I can do it with Rick.”

McGillivray winced, doubtful that was possible.

Dick Hoyt did not meet his skepticism. There had to be some way. There was always a way.

McGillivray and others watched in amazement as Dick swam a mile pulling his son in a rubber dingy, rode a bike for 40 miles with Rick in a cart behind him, then ran 10 miles, pushing Rick in his wheelchair.

After their success in Medford, Dick Hoyt asked McGillivray if he could get them into the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii.

“I almost fell on the floor,” McGillivray recalled. “They wanted to go from Little League to the Major Leagues right away. Medford was one thing, but this was a 2.4-mile swim in the ocean, not a lake, 112 miles on a bike across lava fields, in 50 mile per hour winds and 100-degree temperatures, then a full marathon.”

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The Hoyts were undeterred.

“Dick,” McGillivray asked, “are you sure you want to do Ironman?”

“Rick wants to do it,” Dick replied.

“Yeah, I know,” McGillivray said. “But what about you?”

Dick Hoyt, a father who was determined that his son would not sit on the sidelines of life, didn’t miss a beat.

“I want to do whatever Rick wants to do,” he said.

They didn’t finish that first Ironman, failing to make the swim in time.

“I figured that was the end of that,” McGillivray said.

It wasn’t.

They went back to Hawaii and finished. They went on to take part in hundreds of triathlons. Closer to home, they became a staple at the Boston Marathon, cheered along the route like rock stars, their presence an annual tonic of joy and inspiration.

They ran across the country, finishing their transcontinental run by crossing home plate at Fenway Park at a Red Sox game. The old ballpark shook with awe and delight.

Along the way, the Hoyts pushed the cause of disability rights along just as Dick pushed Rick: selflessly and relentlessly. Because of them, more people with disabilities began taking part in the Marathon and other races where they were once excluded.

On Wednesday, Dick Hoyt died at his home in Western Massachusetts. He was 80.

Dave McGillivray took some time out to remember his old friend. The pandemic shut down McGillivray’s event-planning business, DMSE Sports. But, like his old pal Dick Hoyt, when life presented a barrier, he simply found a way around it. McGillivray is now overseeing logistics at large-scale vaccination sites, such as Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park.

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Dave McGillivray loved Dick Hoyt, in part because the Hoyts gave so many people so many gifts, chief among them perspective, all the while instilling the belief that there’s dignity in every life, that no one gets left behind.

“I loved that he loved his son so much,” Dave McGillivray said. “He loved Rick with every ounce of his being. There’s nothing more powerful than love like that. It can do anything.”


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.