BOSTON — Dick Hoyt, who inspired thousands of runners, fathers and disabled athletes by pushing his son, Rick, in a wheelchair in dozens of Boston Marathons and hundreds of other races, has died, a member of the family said Wednesday.
He was 80.
Dick passed away quietly in his sleep at his Holland, Massachusetts, home on Wednesday morning, Russ Hoyt, another of his sons, told The Associated Press.
“He had an ongoing heart condition that he had been struggling with for years and it just got the better of him," Russ Hoyt said.
Russ and his other brother, Rob, broke the news to Rick.
“He's sad, as we all are, but he's OK,” Russ said. “You could see it in him, it was like someone hit him."
Dick Hoyt first pushed his son, who is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, in the Boston Marathon in 1980. Dick and Rick, in a specialized wheelchair, completed 32 Boston Marathons together, until Dick, citing health issues, retired in 2014. He had planned on retiring after the 2013 race, but the father and son never finished because of that year's finish line bombing, so they came back one more time.
The Boston Athletic Association, which runs the marathon, called Hoyt a legend.
“The B.A.A. is tremendously saddened to learn of the passing of Boston Marathon icon Dick Hoyt," the organization said in a statement. “Dick personified what it meant to a be a Boston Marathoner, showing determination, passion, and love every Patriots Day for more than three decades. He was not only a fan favorite who inspired thousands, but also a loyal friend and father who took pride in spending quality time with his son Rick while running from Hopkinton to Boston."
Dick served as Grand Marshal of the 2015 race in recognition of his accomplishments.
And even though his father stopped, Rick did not. Bryan Lyons, a dentist, took over pushing Rick starting in 2015 until his unexpected death last June at age 50.
The 1980 Boston Marathon was not the Hoyts' first road race.
In 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a benefit run for a lacrosse player who had been paralyzed. They finished next to last, but that was just the start.
“Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not disabled,” Rick told his father after that first race, according to the website of Team Hoyt, the charity the family established to help disabled athletes.
They participated in more than 1,000 races, including duathlons and triathlons and in 1992 even completed a run and bike across the U.S., covering 3,735 miles (6,010 kilometers) in 45 days, according to the website.
In 2013, a statue of father and son was erected in front of a school in Hopkinton, near the Boston Marathon's starting line.
“I know it's a cliche, but I want people to know that I thought my father was a hero, not just because he pushed Rick in the marathon, but because he was a great father to all of us you could talk to about anything," he said. "He inspired people to look at all their children as equals no matter their disability."
Funeral arrangements are pending.