You hear the Hoyts coming long before you see them. There’s a particular sound the Boston Marathon crowd makes when the beloved father-son duo runs by — the son, Rick, in the custom-racing wheelchair, and the father, Dick, pushing, his sturdy legs churning. People already cheering begin to cheer louder at the first sight of the Hoyts and the crowd noise swells, rolling toward you like a wave.
Monday, the Hoyts ran their 32d Boston Marathon and they say it will be their last as a duo. The Hoyts had planned to make the 2013 Marathon their last because Dick is 73 and Rick is 52, and Dick’s increasingly painful back was barking out instructions to give it a rest. But after the bombings at the finish line, and after the Hoyts were among the more than 5,000 runners who were stopped before completing the 2013 race, they decided to come back to finish their personal race and to honor the human spirit of those killed and injured at last year’s race.
It was not easy. The Hoyts were moving slowly early in their race, slowly enough that race director Dave McGillivray went by on his motor scooter to check in on them. The Hoyts plodded on, reaching the half-marathon in 3:19.58 while slowing frequently to acknowledge fans.
“It wasn’t tough out there,’’ said Dick, “but we made it a little tougher because of all our fans out there, it was just unbelievable crowds out there.”
It was 7:37:33 when the Hoyts finally reached the finish line, but they were not alone. Some 20 members of Team Hoyt, the organization they created to help those who are physically disabled become active members of the community, were right there with them so they could cross the line together. Members of the team, runners of all abilities, first caught up to the Hoyts, who started earlier, then adjusted their pace so they could finish the Marathon with Rick and Dick.
“It was very emotional,’’ Dick Hoyt said “What was so nice about the finish, these people are fast runners but they waited until I caught up and we all came across together.’’
“This is the best day of my life,’’ said a weeping Dana Krashin, a 36-year-old woman who said she had been following the Hoyts for 34 years, and who was overwhelmed after joining Team Hoyt’s flourish at the finish. “I had a really bad first half of the race and then I caught up to them at about 24 miles.’’
The Hoyts inspire surprisingly deep emotions in their fans. As McGillivray pointed out, there are a lot of inspirational people running in the Marathon, but people don’t know who they are. Everybody knows the Hoyts.
Their story is no less remarkable for having been told over and over again. Rick was born a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, unable to walk or talk. His parents ignored the advice of doctors who said Rick’s situation was hopeless, and instead fought to get their son access to all kinds of activities. When he was 15, Rick asked his father to push him in a 5-mile fund-raising road race for a local lacrosse player recently paralyzed. As Rick told his father after their first run, “When I’m running I don’t feel handicapped.’’ What father would not react to that?
That local 5-miler was the beginning. Thirty seven years later, the Hoyts have run in more than 1,000 road races, marathons, and triathlons and are known throughout the world for their extraordinary athletic achievements.
After finishing the Marathon, they were immediately swamped with well-wishers, including Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and fans, eager for a photograph.
“I feel good now that it’s over,’’ said Dick. “I’ve got some serious back injuries and I’ve had a lot of problems with my calves and my hamstrings but we were able to overcome it.”
Dick said the team’s first Boston Marathon was probably the most memorable, because it was the hardest to get to. They had to run their first two Bostons as bandits, after the BAA refused their application. No one was quite sure what to do with them, what category to place them in. Rick and Dick just wanted to run. When they were required to qualify for Boston, in Rick’s age group, they did. They went on to become heart and soul of the Marathon.
Rick may run the Boston Marathon again, but with someone else pushing his wheelchair. “It is the last one for me,’’ said Dick, “but not for Rick; he’s going to keep going.’’
An era has come to a close.
More from the 2014 Boston Marathon — Cullen: Just like the days we used to know | Gasper: Boston reclaims its Marathon | Photos: Marathon scenes | The ‘Scream Tunnel’ and Heartbreak Hill | The elite runners | Boylston Street | Videos from the Marathon | Full coverage