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Sports Then and Now

Rick Hoyt, Changing the World, One Letter at a Time

Posted on September 09, 2012 by Todd Civin

Dick Hoyt, Rick Hoyt and Todd Civin celebrate the publishing of the book “One Letter at a Time”.

Rarely in life do we have the opportunity to look back and appreciate the fact that we may have actually achieved something that really counts. Something that makes a difference not only to ourselves but perhaps has an impact on everyone who touches it. A creation that seems to have such potential impact that it becomes impossible to comprehend that it came from us alone and wasn’t also sprinkled with a heavy handed dose of divine intervention.

I’m reminded of the story called Starfish that I heard some years ago. It is the story of a young girl who was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean.

Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one, didn’t I?” The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said.

Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

The story which was adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley, describes precisely how I feel today after experiencing the fervor and enthusiasm that has surrounded the launch of my new book, entitled One Letter at a Time by Rick Hoyt with Todd Civin. 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.

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

Dick and his late wife, Judy, made the decision following Rick’s diagnosis shortly after his birth, to bring him up like all other children and give him the life experiences of a non-disabled person despite the doctors’ recommendations to institutionalize Rick due to the fact that he would never be anything more “than a vegetable”. Fifty years later this world famous “vegetable” lives his life independently, is a college graduate from Boston University with his 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; fittingly entering just ahead of his father who was enshrined as number 26.
For the last year and a half I have had the pleasure of assisting Rick in the realization of a dream for both he and I as we recently completed his book, One Letter at a Time. One Letter at a Time is the story of Rick’s life as told by Rick and the people that he has inspired. The book, published by Mascot Books, is a 300 page-hard covered book, with 10 pages of exclusive photos, which shares stories of Rick’s life from birth to present and allows him to tell the Team Hoyt story through his vantage point.

What makes this accomplishment thoroughly mind boggling 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 known as the Russell Method. The Russell Method was 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 using 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 and to a lesser degree for me. As one can imagine, every word, every sentence, every paragraph, and therefore every chapter required painstaking commitment on the part of my amazingly inspiring friend.

“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 and me, we also enlisted the help of many people who he has impacted over the course of his life, each who also contributed a chapter. Among the contributors are Dick Hoyt, himself, Rick’s brothers Rob and Russell, Kirk Joslin, President of Easter Seals Massachusetts, USMC Maj. Kim “Rooster” Rossiter and multi-emmy award winning broadcast journalist, Barry Nolan, who covered the story of the Hoyts for television at many times throughout their illustrious career.

Says Nolan in his chapter called, Extraordinary People, “If you work in TV long enough, you tend to meet some pretty interesting people, from movie stars to murderers. I have had the chance to meet the likes of George Clooney and OJ Simpson, Paris Hilton and Hillary Clinton. But if you get really lucky, you will also meet a few truly unforgettable and extraordinary people along the way, who will leave such a powerful and lasting impression on you that just knowing them makes you a better person than you might have been otherwise – in ways you can barely begin to understand.  People, like Dick and Ricky Hoyt.”

Team Hoyt, Team Long Brothers (Conner and Cayden Long) and Ainsley’s Angels (Briley and Ainsley Rossiter) race at the Holland 5k to cheers of the adoring crowd.

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 our website, fans have gravitated to it and sent letters and emails in abundance thanking Rick for sharing the innermost details of his life.

Orders have come in from all over the US during the first month since its release as well as from Mexico, Australia, Canada, Singapore and the Netherlands. Many of the purchases have come from runners, triathletes and families of disabled people 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.

As I share in one of my chapters entitled, The Meeting, “Many of the doors that the Hoyt family has knocked on, knocked down, charged through and ultimately opened, remain ajar so that those who follow behind them will find a welcome mat outside to greet them.”

Team Hoyt has inspired several running organizations throughout the country which operate under the name of Team Hoyt Virginia Beach and myTEAM TRIUMPH. Both groups are athletic ride-along programs created for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who would normally not be able to experience endurance events such as triathlons or road races.

In an effort to pay it forward and help spread the message of Dick and Rick Hoyt, several chapters have begun selling Rick’s book at their races as a fundraiser. For each book purchased using the chapters unique donor code, Rick will pay make a donation to the chapter to help fund their non-profit efforts. To-date chapters in Wisconsin, Southern Arizona, Phoenix, Cape Cod, Ainsley’s Angels of Eastern Carolina and Southwest Louisiana and Virginia Beach are each selling books and supporting Rick’s initiative. In addition, the book is being sold internationally in Australia using the fund raising code Will and Hamish for a pair of brothers who have a rare inherited disease called Adenylossucinate Lyase (Adsl) Deficiency and are non-verbal.

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.”

And as the little girl on the beach so aptly explained, “Well, I made a difference to that one, didn’t I?”

Todd Civin is a writer and owner of Civin Media Relations. His book, “One Letter at a Time” can be purchased at his website at or by sending a check or money order for $24.95 plus $3.95 s/h per book to Civin Media Relations, 2 Robbins Road, Winchendon, MA 01475.

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