Rick and Dick Hoyt Rick graduates from Boston University with a special education degree, May 16, 1993
(Our apologies for the grainy quality of this photograph, but we felt this moment was worth sharing.)

DICK HOYT A Father’s Story – Part II

When Dick Hoyt’s son Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, he was devastated. But when he and his wife, Judy, were told to place Rick in an institution, the devoted parents decided to give their son a life of uncommon opportunity, inclusion, and of course, athletics. This is Dick’s story.

“This wasn’t the start of another race; it was the end of one. Nine years in the making, it was a challenge Rick had faced and conquered all by himself. This was Boston University’s one hundred twentieth commencement ceremony, and my eldest son was graduating with a degree in special education.”

- Dick Hoyt, Devoted: The Story of Father’s Love for His Son, 2010

“A large part of that full schedule had included Rick attending college and living independently, a huge endeavor that few could have predicted for him. I always hoped the best for Rick, no matter what the experts told us. As the years went by, I was happy to see them proved wrong. It was a joy to see my child all grown up and participating in life like any other young man.”

- Dick Hoyt, Devoted: The Story of Father’s Love for His Son, 2010

“After all the effort it took just to get him into the public school system, we couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.”

- Dick Hoyt, Devoted: The Story of Father’s Love for His Son, 2010

“Any good parent feels sad when he realizes that his child no longer needs him. We felt that times twenty. At the same time, it was more than I could have ever hoped for my son.”

- Dick Hoyt, Devoted: The Story of Father’s Love for His Son, 2010

A Family Affair

Secure opportunities, they did. Dick and Judy added two more boys to their family, Russell and Robert, and with three growing boys and one dad in the house, there was no way sports would not be part of the equation, Dick said.

As a boy, Rick would sled with his father and brothers in the winter, swim with them during the warm months, and build forts in the summer. When playing baseball, Rick was the umpire. During hockey, Rick was a goalie (with a stick tied to his wheelchair and a pillow to secure him).

“Someone would maneuver my wheelchair from behind so I was a lot like the goalie in a game of table top hockey,” Rick divulged. “Plus with my toothless grin, I think I looked like one of the Bruins players from the early seventies.”

Rick recalls his relationship with his siblings as being “sort of a cross between Leave It to Beaver and The Three Stooges with maybe a little bit of Dennis the Menace sprinkled in,” he said. “We picked on each other endlessly, and to this day, we still do. In a lot of ways, I think it was my brothers’ way of making me feel accepted and equal to them.”

Rick even admits to taking his first girlfriend, Patty, to a fifth grade dance.

“Patty was light on her feet, I held my own on the dance floor. I could really move my arms to the rhythm of the music,” Rick said. “I probably wasn’t going to win any dance contests, but people got a big kick by watching me do the Twist or Hang Ten to the Beach Boys.”

In Rick’s book “One Letter at a Time,” and Dick’s book “Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love for His Son” you’ll find wonderful stories of sibling fun, endearing play, and mischievous jokes the brothers played on each other, their parents, the neighbors, college girls, fellow tourists, and the unsuspecting public. They even share their family vacations and cross country family trip from California to Boston in 47 days.

The Basics

But education also needed to be a part of Rick’s life, and for a long time, he was not entitled to the same education as other students in Commonwealth. So Rick’s parents – mostly his mother Judy – had to fight for the passage of a Massachusetts’ education reform law that forced public school districts to accommodate individuals with disabilities, and educate them as they would other students alongside their non-disabled siblings, friends and peers.

“I’m a man of very few words, and Mom had more of them than she needed,” Rick wrote of his memories of his mother, Judy.

“Mom fought for the rights of me and thousands of others to enter public school. She pushed ahead even if it meant calling senators from different states to make sure her point was heard,” said Rick. “It was important to Mom that I be fully included.”

Judy died September 2010. During her lifetime she not only fought for Rick’s inclusion at school, but she received her Master of Education to become a pioneer in the field of education. Judy is well known for working tirelessly to help pass the first special education reform law in the country, Chapter 766. She founded the Association for the Support of Human Services (ASHS), a human service agency in Massachusetts. It was there she created the Kamp for Kids, the first ever summer camp for children with and without disabilities.

Both Dick and Judy’s indominable spirit, advocacy, and persistence paved the way for Rick to excel in many aspects of his life’s journey including the education he was originally denied.

Attending middle school was a fete, but it wasn’t the only exciting development coming down the pike. He graduated from Westfield High School in 1984, a wonderful year for Rick as he also competed as an official entrant in the Boston Marathon, attended his senior prom, and shaken the hands of political dignitaries and sport superstars.

“No event in 1984 was quite so momentous, however as his high school graduation. Rick had worked so hard to finish his studies,” said Dick. “After all the effort it took just to get him into the public school system, we couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. Everyone was rooting for Rick that day.” Rick received a standing ovation, was pushed across the stage to “Pomp and Circumstance” and was presented his diploma by the mayor of Westfield, Mass.

“I would have been proud had he decided to stop his schooling there, but Rick is not one to settle for average,” Dick said. Rick applied and was accepted to Boston University (BU).

Attending an educational institution was not without challenges. Rick would need to personally hire and manage a crew of personal care assistants (PCAs) and live independently on campus away from his family for the first time in his life.

“With impending statewide budget cuts that threatened to do away with the benefit of PCAs entirely, Judy spent more time with legislators and took Rick’s example to those in charge of implementing the bill on disabilities and showed them the kind of care the disabled could receive,” Dick recalled. “She explained that it would cost the state a whole lot less to bill Medicaid for PCAs, who at that time got paid $8 an hour, than it would to support Rick in an institution.”

The accomplishment was bittersweet as Rick’s brothers and parents rode with Rick to BU. “It brought to mind the long ride home from the specialist the day we were told exactly what was wrong with Rick. Only this time, we were filled with hope and expectations,” Dick recalled. “Any good parent feels sad when he realizes that his child no longer needs him. We felt that times twenty. At the same time, it was more than I could have ever hoped for my son.”

Dick and Judy both would have preferred Rick attend college closer to home, however Rick was ready for independence and freedom; he chose the private university on the banks of the Charles River because it excelled in occupational therapy and biomedical engineering programs that enrich the lives of those with physical impairment. He was intent on obtaining a degree in special education, like his mother, in order to be at “the other end of the spectrum to find ways to help people in situations similar to his own.”

“That day in 1993, at the age of thirty-one, Rick became the first nonspeaking quadriplegic to ever graduate from the School of Education at Boston University. He became one of the first nonspeaking, quadriplegic students to graduate from any university,” Dick wrote in Devoted. “And he graduated with a B average. He had accomplished this amazing achievement all on his own, without any favors or special treatment. I could not have been prouder on that day. It was by far one of the best days of my life.”

Rick’s dad never doubted for a minute that his son could be successful in BU.

“I have to admit I had a hard time letting him go,” he said. “But I could tell that he wanted to do it alone – it meant a lot to Rick to be able to go to Boston and graduate without his family.”

Continued…

For Dick Hoyt: Part I – Race by Race, a Father’s Love Lifts Son
For Dick Hoyt: Part II – The Basics
For Dick Hoyt: Part III – Transcending Limits

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- Rick Hoyt and Todd Civin. One Letter at a Time, 2012
- Dick Hoyt. Devoted: The Story of a Father’s Love For His Son, 2010

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