Legendary dad who pushed son's wheelchair in races remembered

Dave McGillivray, right, race director of the Boston Marathon, keeps pace with Dick Hoyt as he pushes his son Rick during a road race in Andover.RYAN HUTTON/Staff photo

Dave McGillivray’s introduction to Dick Hoyt happened on Cape Cod in the early 1980s.

It was about the five-mile mark of the famed Falmouth Road Race.

“As I was running, I see this guy pushing a kid, really a young adult, in a wheelchair and he’s blowing right by me,” recalled McGillivray of North Andover, an iconic runner and race organizer, notably for his work with the Boston Marathon. “I’d seen people racing in wheelchairs, but never someone pushing another person. I just said, ‘This guy is not going to beat me.’”

He was wrong. The Hoyts — Dick pushing and his son Rick in the wheelchair providing inspiration — did indeed finish ahead of McGillivray that day.

The experience of seeing the father and son’s devotion to each other during the race drew McGillivray to them. After the event, he caught up with Dick and got the full story of the Hoyts’ start in road racing. Dick explained that Rick, who was then in his early 20s and was born with cerebral palsy, wanted to compete in a triathlon, which at the time was McGillivray’s specialty.

“I was managing the Bay State Triathlon and I asked (Dick) how they planned to swim,” McGillivray said, referring to the leg of the race done in the water. “He said, ‘I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.’ They came to Medford and we got Rick a dinghy so Dick could pull him. They made it work.”

Hoyt’s devotion to his son was legendary. McGillivray and Team Hoyt, the official name of the duo from Sturbridge, became the best of friends for nearly four decades.

When he found out that Hoyt died in his sleep on Wednesday morning of last week at age 80, McGillivray began to reminisce about their time together.

They were connected by the Boston Marathon, triathlons and Andover’s Feaster Five Road Race, and McGillivray ended up managing some of the Hoyts’ appearances and races.

The many great stories included one involving the famed Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. McGillivray competed in it many times, and at one point he got a phone call from Hoyt.

“Dick said, ‘Rick wants to compete in the Ironman in Hawaii,’” McGillivray recalled, referring to the race which includes a 2.5-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2-mile marathon. “I said, ‘Dick, are you crazy? It’s too tough. The swim alone.’ He said, ‘Rick wants to do it. Can you get us in?’ I got him in and he never made the swim cutoff.

“Dick called me a month later and said, ‘Rick wants to go back to Hawaii next year and try again,’” McGillivray remembered. “I ended up getting him in again. This time they were able to finish. It was an amazing story. And the rest is history.”

The Hoyts were regulars at the Feaster Five race on Thanksgiving morning for more than two decades. They were involved in the race before McGillivray became its director. They were drawn to it because the father and son wanted to participate in a Thanksgiving event before spending the holiday with relatives in North Reading.

The Hoyts, following McGillivray’s lead, ran and biked a route across the country for charity. McGillivray planned and managed the route for them.

McGillivray said one of the greatest gifts he ever received came from Dick and Rick Hoyt on his 60th birthday in 2014.

The Hoyts not only participated in his annual “birthday run” — in which McGillivray runs his age, in miles — but they gave him a box. Inside was a card saying McGillivray could push Rick in a race.

“It was amazing because through all our contact over the years, I’d never been alone with Rick,” McGillivray said.

“I was talking and talking and talking about all of the things we’d seen and done,’’ he remembered about pushing Rick’s wheelchair in a competition. “It was incredible. Rick had this big smile on his face. I was smiling. It was one of the experiences of my life. I also realized how hard it was and it told me how special Dick was.”

McGillivray said last Wednesday was a tough day, after he got a phone call from Dick’s brother who said Hoyt had died.

It got McGillivray thinking about Hoyt’s true legacy.

“He had a greater purpose in life than all of us,” McGillivray said. “At the time he started out with Rick, running was very competitive. It was about winning. And Dick was incredible, pushing Rick under three hours in the Boston Marathon. That’s amazing.

“But then philanthropy became important in racing. But he was there first. He started this movement,” McGillivray said of Hoyt. “I always looked at him as invincible. He was so tough mentally and physically. But in the end, he was a kind soul, as special as they come.”

 

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