Chances are, they’re not going to finish first, second, third or anywhere near the top of the pack in a road race.
What does — and the reason for the creation of Team Hoyt — is to give an opportunity to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have it.
“It all started on the East Coast with Dick and Rick Hoyt,” Team Hoyt Coeur d’Alene founder and president Laurie Aikins said. “They’re a father and son team, and the father is in his late 70s now and Rick is 55. When Rick was 15 years old, they started participating in marathons and triathlons.”
Rick, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was born a spastic quadriplegic.
“Rick asked his dad to take him to a benefit race for a kid who was paralyzed,” Aikins said. “When they got home, Rick, who has a little computer to communicate, told his dad, ‘When we’re running, I don’t feel handicapped anymore.’”
'Running' that first time meant Dick ran 5 miles while pushing his son in a wheelchair.
Now they’ve done 1,200 races over the last 40 years.
Since the beginning, seven chapters of Team Hoyt have been started nationally, including the chapter in Coeur d’Alene.
“Basically, they show up and we run the race with them,” Aikins said. “And it’s just such a cool thing to see. We get these people that have been disabled and never done anything like this. Some of them haven’t been able to scratch their own nose and get put in the corner of the classroom. Now, they’re the focal point. People come up and high-five them. It gives them a sense of inclusion.”
Team members will push a wheelchair designed to keep a disabled competitor safe throughout a race course.
“It’s a wheelchair that’s meant to go out running,” Aikins said. “It’s kind of like a baby jogger, but bigger, so they can be out on the race course.”
Team members raise the money to fund the chairs and pay entry fees.
“We lend them our legs,” Aikins said. “They’re the heart, and we’re the legs.”
“Unlike those who can go in hand cycles, these folks we work with don’t have the ability to propel themselves,” Team Hoyt Coeur d’Alene member Nancy Lowery said.
“We’re just there to give them a motor,” Aikins said. “One of our athletes is my neighbor and has done two races. He told a sister-in-law the other night at dinner that he loves going out with Team Hoyt because I feel normal. And that’s awesome. That’s why we do this.”
Both Aikins and Lowery competed in various marathons, triathlons and Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
“Laurie and I have raced for years,” Lowery said. “When she presented this idea to me, and we were preparing for another Ironman, she said this was something she’d love to do. And so when she brought it here, after a while, and 30-plus years of racing, you think, ‘Do I really want another racing T-shirt, or do I care about it?’ When you race with Team Hoyt, it’s so amazing and feels like the first time you race. You feel so much gratitude for being able to help someone cross the finish line. It’s not you, it’s us.”
“You can’t really understand that feeling until you’ve pushed a chair,” Aikins said. “The feeling you get from them, to see them so happy, you get a certain amount back, but they give you a larger amount. So it’s almost a selfish thing because it really makes you feel so good to help them.”
Team Hoyt Coeur d’Alene has a full list of events at www.teamhoytcda.com.
“We really just started last year, so it was just a few races here and there,” Aikins said. “We’re kind of MacGyvering it a little this year with some people who are busy and have conflicts. We’re moving into triathlons as well. Last year, we didn’t have the equipment to do a triathlon and now we do. We’d rather do little things well instead of big things poorly.”
“As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, we needed to prove ourselves to the community,” Lowery said. “And prove that we’re here for the long haul and we’re going to go. We’ve got seven chairs now.”
Dick Hoyt will be in Coeur d’Alene on June 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hagadone Event Center to meet and speak to the community about the organization.
“This is an opportunity to be there up close and personal with the man who started this all,” Lowery said. “To have the guy who started all this to come to Coeur d’Alene, it’s a big deal.”
“He draws crowds of thousands and there’s not a dry eye in the place,” Aikins said. “‘Can’t’ is a word that’s not in their vocabulary.”