TOWNSEND -- The 2013 Boston Marathon was supposed to be the last for father-and-son team Dick and Rick Hoyt.
But when two bombs went off at the finish line, and the Hoyts were detoured off the race route at mile 25, they knew they would have to return one more time to finish the race.
The Hoyts have become a staple of the Boston Marathon, with Dick, now 73, pushing his disabled son, Rick, the entire 26.2 mile stretch for the last 31 years. But this year is special, Dick Hoyt said.
"Boston was strong last year, but they're so much more strong this year. It's unbelievable," Hoyt said.
Dick Hoyt spoke to students at North Middlesex Regional High School last Friday about his experiences racing with his quadriplegic son, who he said continues to inspire him.
Over the last 34 years, the Hoyts have competed in more than 1,100 races, including marathons and triathlons. Through all of the miles, Hoyt said one thing has kept him going -- his son.
"The easiest thing for Rick to do would be to give up, but he doesn't. He's the smartest guy I know," Hoyt said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm just loaning him my arms and legs so he can run."
When Rick Hoyt was born in 1962, oxygen deprivation to his brain caused cerebral palsy. He gets around in a wheelchair and speaks through a computer, but Dick Hoyt said his son has never let his disabilities hold him back.
When a student lacrosse player was paralyzed in a car accident when Rick was 15, he decided to participate in a 5-mile benefit run.
At the time, Rick told his father he wanted to run so that the student would know that life would go on after he was paralyzed.
"When we got home that night, Rick opened up his computer and said, 'Dad, when I'm running, it feels like my disability disappears,'" Hoyt said.
"He calls himself Free Bird, because now he can be out there competing and running with everybody else."
From the time Rick was a baby, the Hoyts have been told all about the things Rick wouldn't be able to do.
"They said forget Rick, put him away, put him in an institution. He's going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life," Hoyt said.
But Rick never bought into that attitude. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in special education, and continued running with his father, despite being initially denied entrance to many races.
"There's no such word as 'can't' in the Hoyt vocabulary," he said.
When they ran their first Boston Marathon in 1981, they were required to qualify in Rick's age group, despite Dick being 21 years older. They qualified at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. with a time of 2 hours, 45 minutes, five minutes under the requirement.
Now, some of the races they were originally denied entry to, like the IronMan World Championship in Hawaii, offer a physically challenged division.
"We've come a long way and we've been able to break down a lot of barriers along the way," Hoyt said.
Though Hoyt said he will continue to run in smaller races, others will soon pick up his torch. Members of Team Hoyt New England will be pushing Rick, along with other disabled individuals, in future races.
Despite the years of adversity, Hoyt said he has never been tempted to give up.
"Our message is yes you can, and like the Boston Marathon, they made us qualify in Rick's age group. So we never asked for anything special, whatever people said we went out and did it. That's why our message is yes you can. Because there isn't anything you can't do as long as you make up your mind to do it," Hoyt said.
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