Making Dreams Come True One Letter at a Time

By Chris Rohan, Disabled Dealer Magazine

One Letter at a Time Book

One Letter at a Time is the life long story of famed marathoner and triathlete, Rick Hoyt, who together with his equally famous father, Dick Hoyt, makes up the world-renowned duo known as Team Hoyt. The story is written by both father and son with the help of writer Todd Civin.

Rick, who is a non-verbal quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, has spent his entire life in a wheelchair unable to control his spastic movements from the neck down. Despite his disability, the younger Hoyt, now age 50, has been pushed, pedaled and paddled to the finish line of nearly 1100 races by his 72-year-old equally inspiring father.

I first met Dick and Rick Hoyt in 1989 in Hawaii at the Hawaiian Ironman. What an event!! Off all the inspirational stories, I loved the Hoyt’s. They were back after a disappointing experience the year prior when they failed to make the cut-off time for the swim portion and were not able to finish the race. I was lucky enough to be right there in 1989 when they finished their swim in time! I watched Dick get out of the water, pick up his son from the raft and place him a special seat on the front of his bike. Ricky was smiling the whole time cheering his dad on and the crowd was cheering right there with him. There was not a dry eye to be had. It was a beautiful, touching moment that will live forever in my memory.

When you consider the ability of Team Hoyt to inspire so many, it’s no wonder the father/son duo also joined forces to write a book.

“So much has been written about me. I decided to write a book and add the people who are close to me to write stories about me,” explained Rick. “I wanted people to see I am a person just like everyone else. I wanted people to realize that you don't need to be scared to talk or approach myself or others with disabilities. It took me a long time to write this book, literally one letter at a time, which I hope inspires and encourages others to reach for their goals no matter how unattainable they may seem.”

In addition to being known the world over for their athletic prowess, the Hoyts have become a symbol of the undying love between a father and a son.

Shortly after Rick was born, the doctors recommended that Dick and his late wife, Judy, institutionalize their young son. Though they told the family he would never be anything more "than a vegetable," the Hoyts had other plans. They made the decision to bring him up like all other children and give him the life experiences that any child would have.

At that time, there was no Internet, no resources. They just used their everyday knowledge and common sense of raising kids. Neither one of them treated Rick differently. He was just one of their kids and, like every parent whose child does not come with directions, they did their best. Because of them, Ricky grew up happy, content and an even a little mischievous but, most importantly, he was loved.

Fifty years later, this world-famous "vegetable" lives his life independently, is a college graduate from Boston University with a degree in Special Education, has competed in 30 Boston Marathons and is the 25th member of the Iron Man Hall of Fame in Kona. Hawaii. He was fittingly entering just ahead of his father who was enshrined as number 26.

What makes the accomplishment of authoring a book even more impressive is the fact that Rick is non-verbal and completed his sections of the book using his one letter at a time method of speaking, also known as the Russell Method.

The Russell Method was actually devised by Rick and his younger brother, Russell, when Rick was a young teenager after the Hoyt family became frustrated by the difficulty Rick had communicating with his interactive speech computer.

The computer, which was developed by a group of young engineers at Tufts University, gave Rick the gift of communication but was relatively slow and challenging. The Russell method, though not perfect, allows Rick to communicate using the alphabet and slight nods of his head when the person to whom he is speaking with hits upon the letter in the word that Rick is attempting to convey.

It is understandable therefore how the completion of the book using Rick's one letter at a time method of speaking was an exercise in patience, diligence and perseverance for Rick. As one can imagine, every word, every sentence, every paragraph and, therefore, every chapter required painstaking commitment.

"I am writing this book about my life because I want people to know that despite my disabilities, I am very much like most people on the inside. I live a normal life and think, love and laugh just like anyone else." explains Rick in his chapter entitled, Welcome to My World." We don’t use the word ‘normal’ in our family because, what is normal? Normal is simply what you know, so my life is normal. This is all I have ever known, so I have nothing to compare it to. Though my life may be very different than your own, it does not make me abnormal, simply different."

In addition to many chapters written by Rick, the book is full chapters by people whose lives Rick has impacted. Among the contributors are Dick Hoyt, himself; Rick's brothers Rob and Russell; Kirk Joslin, President of Easter Seals Massachusetts; and USMC Maj. Kim "Rooster” Rossitier. (His story will be in the June issue of the Disabled Dealer Magazine—a Father’s Day issue which pays tribute to all dads with a special recognition to Major Rossitier.)

Since the launch of the book (which is being sold at signings throughout New England, at all the Hoyt's races, at public speaking engagements and at, fans have gravitated to it and sent letters and emails in abundance to thank Rick for sharing the innermost details of his life.

Orders have come in from all over the US as well as from Mexico, Australia, Canada, Singapore and the Netherlands. Many of the purchases have come from runners, triathletes and families of people with disabilities each of whom seem to be inspired by Rick's sense of humor, his candor and his ability to shed light on the challenges he has faced, battled and ultimately overcome.

When asked about the completion of his life-changing best-seller-in-waiting, Rick tapped out his one letter at a time response, "I hope that after reading 'One Letter at a Time', people will think differently when they see someone who is disabled or non-verbal. I hope that they now see this person as someone who has thoughts and feelings and intelligence and not just as a person with a disability."


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