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First Person

The Long Haul

Dick Hoyt is 68, his son Rick is 47. How much longer can this seemingly tireless father push his 120-pound son with cerebral palsy along 26.2 miles, inspiring the world as they pass?

By Doug Most
April 19, 2009
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Do you think about the day when you can't run marathons pushing Rick anymore? We are slowing down. I'm having problems with stiffness in my legs, hamstrings and quads. My heart is fine. Just a little high cholesterol. But we're very competitive. We don't see any end in sight for the both of us. I see us going until I'm at least 70. The letters and e-mails are inspiring us.

How many do you get? We get 200 a day. From moms and dads, suicidal patients, schools, churches.

Running together defines the two of you. How will your relationship change once you can't run anymore? We've thought about it a lot. I don't think it would change. We might spend more time together. Now I'm out doing all these speeches and overnight things.

How many speeches are you giving? Last year I did 113 speeches. I turned down 200. A lot of people use us as role models.

What do you remember about starting out doing this? I was 40. I was not a runner. At first nobody wanted anything to do with us. Nobody wanted us in their race.

So why didn't you just try something else? He [Rick] always had a big smile and his hands up. He said, "When I'm running, I don't feel disabled."

What will you miss the most? The camaraderie, the people we compete with, especially the triathletes.

You were both inducted last year into the Triathlete Hall of Fame. Can you keep doing multiple races year after year? Rick says if it came down to one race a year, we'd have to do Boston.

How will you know it's time to stop? One day I think Rick will wake up and say, "Dad, that's it." We're a team. I have no desire to run by myself.

But it sounds like you're not quitting yet? I think he enjoys it now more than ever. We're not inspiring one person. We're inspiring millions around the world. When we retire, I may not be that competitive, but I'll still go out and bike 40 miles a day and stop at schools and hospitals.

At this point, I approached Rick in his wheelchair. Rick, who was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and has no control over muscles below his neck, is able to type by maneuvering his head against a padded mouse by his ear and clicking on letters on a screen attached to his chair. I asked him, "Do you worry about the day when your dad can't push you through races anymore?" It took Rick about three minutes to type his answer. The computer attached to his wheelchair can speak the words that he types, and when he finished, this is what the computer said: "Hopefully some nice young good-looking woman will take dad's place." And then Rick laughed.