Father-son bond is inspiring, and metaphor

?Tis the season to be cynical?steroid use by athletes, win-at-all-cost coaches, unethical officials, unruly fans, out-of-sight salaries paid to professional athletes and college and professional coaches, to name just a few.

Or ?tis the season to remember that sports and athletic competition can actually heal and bring people closer together.

If you don?t know the story of Rick and Dick Hoyt, you should. Reading their story, I learned that it?s a message of how the love of a father can influence the life of his son.

Since birth, Rick has had cerebral palsy. His father, Dick, remembers, ?They told us to put Rick away in an institution (because) he?s going to be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life.?

Life isn?t always fair. And to be fair to other parents in a similarly difficult situation, an institution may be the only choice. But the Hoyts said, ?No, we?re not going to do that. We?re going to bring Rick home and bring him up like any other child.?

When their son was 11, the Hoyts took Rick to engineers at Tufts University to see if there was a way to allow him to communicate. The answer was negative because the engineers said nothing was going on in Rick?s brain.

?Tell him a joke,? Mr. Hoyt said. ?They did. Rick laughed.? The engineers had noticed the way Rick?s eyes followed them around the room. There was more going on in his brain than anyone realized.

With the help of an interactive computer, Rick surprised his family with his first ?spoken? words. They had expected perhaps ?Hi, Mom? or Hi, Dad.? But on the screen Rick wrote ?Go Bruins.? The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals that season, and Rick?s family realized he had been following the hockey games along with everyone else.

In 1975, Rick was admitted into a public school, with the help of his mother, Judy, who had battled to have a state law changed so he could attend.

Two years later, he told his father he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Dick, far from being a long-distance runner, agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair. They finished next to last, but they felt they had achieved a triumph. That night, Dick remembers, ?Rick told us he just didn?t feel handicapped when we were competing.?

For the past 25 years, Dick has pushed and pulled his son across the country and over hundreds of finish lines. When Dick runs, Rick is in a wheelchair that Dick is pushing. When Dick cycles, Rick rides in the seat-pod from his wheelchair, attached to the front of the bike. When Dick swims, Rick is in a small but heavy, firmly stabilized boat being pulled by Dick.

For all of their athletic achievement, the Hoyt family?s greatest pride came in 1993 when Rick, despite no use of his legs, arms or of his voice, got his bachelor of science degree from Boston University.

So how does Rick feel about all of this? He typed, ?When I am running, my disability seems to disappear. It is the only place where truly I feel as an equal. Due to all the positive feedback, I do not feel handicapped at all. Rather, I feel that I am the intelligent person that I am with no limits.

?I have a message for the world, which is this: To take time to get to know people with disabilities for the individuals they are.

?No doubt about it. My dad is the Father of the Century. The thing I?d most like is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.?

In 2005, Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly wrote, ?And Dick got something else out of all this, too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race.

Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95 percent clogged. ?If you hadn?t been in such great shape,? one doctor told him, ?you probably would?ve died 15 years ago.??

So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other?s life.

Sounds kind of familiar in this season, doesn?t it? A Father gives an unending gift to His children, with an opportunity not only to improve, but to save their lives.

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