The Hoyts were runners, Rick and his dad Dick, delightfully thrust upon our consciousness, featured in our newspapers and on our TV screens each and every spring for more than 30 years.
“And here come the Hoyts!” a voice would beckon on TV or radio on Marathon Monday, often amid April’s mist and chill. “Back for another year … and they’re moving along at a pretty good clip, too.”
Their time mattered to them, of course, because all runners measure their beings in minutes and miles, forever scheming how to cheat the clock’s hands with their tired legs. But the Hoyts’ time mattered not to us, not really, not to anyone who watched that marvelous sporting tableau, with the relentless Dick pushing behind Rick’s three-wheeled cycle, Team Hoyt pounding its way down Boylston Street to the finish line.
He was the motor, Dick often said in their years together out on the road. Rick, he always added, was the heart.
This past Monday, the Hoyt family announced the death of Richard Eugene Hoyt Jr. Born with cerebral palsy, and a heart that was lightest and happiest when he and his dad were running together down the road, Rick was 61.
Together, in ways many of us might not have appreciated fully at the time, Dick and Rick became the faces of the Boston Marathon, certainly different in style and form, but very similar to how the great Johnny Kelley became synonymous with the race decades earlier, followed by Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson.
They were our people, dominating our race, the likes of Kelley, Rodgers, and Benoit Samuelson becoming icons before the torturous track from Hopkinton to the Back Bay evolved into one of the sport’s international crown jewels. Amid what eventually became a barrage of winners from across the world, often with names we found hard to pronounce never mind recognize or remember, the Hoyts emerged as a Boston constant.
Yes, they were different, and central to the Hoyts’ story is that they were not instantly embraced by the running community upon initially competing in the late 1970s. But they found their way in, forced cycle and feet to the start line, and emerged as Boston’s resident constants. We soon embraced that the Hoyts were different, in how they looked and ran, and we grew to rejoice in it. They were our ongoing lesson in acceptance, inclusion, and how the triumphs of Marathon Monday are many and diverse.
As the decades clicked by, the ‘70s, and ‘80s, and ‘90s, and into the new millennium, fewer of us knew or paid close attention to the race favorites. Many of us were raised in a “clubbier” time, invested if the names of the favorites were from around here, or at least were names we considered Boston regulars.
When a 26-year-old Rosie Ruiz dropped out of the sky and slipped her head under that leafy crown in 1980, we were initially startled that she was a no-name. Not only that, but she was a no-name from that faraway world of, get this, New York City.
She had to be a fake! As it turned out, she was.
Our sense of faraway was different back then. The Internet hadn’t been invented. Mobile phones were the stuff of the Dick Tracy comic strip. Here in the Hub of the Universe, sports updates on the nightly newscasts of Channels 4, 5, and 7 were considered must watches, the three sports anchors high-paid celebrities, and Ch. 5′s Clark Booth our sports laureate. ESPN didn’t launch until 1979 and couldn’t touch what the locals provided.
Enter father and son.
“Here come the Hoyts!”
Born in 1962, cerebral palsy robbing him use of his legs and arms, Rick was 15 when he told his dad he’d like to do something to help a lacrosse player who had been left paralyzed by a car accident. Father and son teamed for the first time in that charity race. Four years later, they ran their first Boston — the very same day that unknown New Yorker made all the buzz with her win in the women’s division.
Dick, age 80, died in 2021, about the same time that Rick began developing severe respiratory issues that eventually proved fatal. Together, the Hoyts competed in more than 30 Bostons, the last of those in 2014. They were closing in on the finish in 2013, but were among the many forced to quit the race because of the deadly bombing on Boylston Street.
In the years the Hoyts kept plugging, the two competing in well over 1,000 races worldwide, so much changed here. Like its architectural landscape, Boston’s profile lifted high and higher. Our quaint brick and brownstone townhouses became eclipsed by towers of steel and glass. Our top four pro sports teams all raised their respective roofs, winning world titles.
And our Marathon, still a niche local event when the Hoyts first entered, grew to be a humongous show dominated by international stars, most of whom catch a flight out of town the next day. We’ve watched Boston go from a race dotted with runners in PF Flyers to one dominated by the sport’s jet set, elite runners chasing pots of gold around the world.
The Hoyts were runners, Rick and his dad Dick, and they grew to be our Marathon. They were us, and perhaps the last of us.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.