February 1

Inspirational story and cautionary tale

11  comments

A friend sent me this story earlier today so I thought I would share it. I read of this man and his son several years ago; this piece from Sports Illustrated is a nice, short summary.

[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]
I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.
But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.
Eighty-five times he’s pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he’s not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars–all in the same day.
Dick’s also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. On a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?
And what has Rick done for his father? Not much–except save his life.
This love story began in Winchester, Mass. 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.
“He’ll be a vegetable the rest of his life;” Dick says doctors told him And his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. “Put him in an institution.”
But the Hoyts weren’t buying it. They noticed the way Rick’s eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the Engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. “No way,” Dick says he was told. “There’s nothing going on in his brain.”
“Tell him a joke,” Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a Lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? “Go Bruins!” And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, “Dad, I want to do that.”
Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ‘porker’ who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. “Then it was me who was handicapped,’ Dick says. “I was sore For two weeks.”
That day changed Rick’s life. “Dad,” he typed, “when we were running, It felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore!”
And that sentence changed Dick’s life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.
‘No way,” Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren’t quite a single runner, and they weren’t quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few Years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.
Then somebody said, “Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?”
How’s a guy who never learned to swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.
Now they’ve done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii . It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don’t you think?
Hey, Dick, why not see how you’d do on your own? “No way,” he says. Dick does it purely for “the awesome feeling’ he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.
This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992–only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don’t keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.
“No question about it,” Rick types. “My dad is the Father of the Century.”
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% 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.
Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father’s Day.
That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.
“The thing I’d most like,” Rick types, “is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.”

What’s the cautionary tale? It is that exercise doesn’t necessarily prevent heart attacks. Just ask the family of Jim Fixx. It would be hard to imagine being in better shape than the father in this story, yet it didn’t prevent a 95% occlusion of one of his coronary arteries. To prevent heart disease, think proper diet and non-smoking.
Here is a video of Dick Hoyt and his son Rick. See if you can watch it without a lump in your throat.
[youtube]f4B-r8KJhlE[/youtube]


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  1. Doc:
    Thanks for a point well taken about diet and a wonderful story. My tear ducts needed lubricating. Seeing this makes me more determined than ever to stick with the low carb dietary plan you’ve so wonderfully set forth.
    Do you have a medical solution for removing two lumps in my throat?
    David Futoma
    Hi David–
    Yeah, it’s pretty heart wrenching.  Glad you enjoyed it.
    MRE 

  2. Very touching and inspiring story. All too often we take things for granted. I know I do. This really puts things in perspective. Thanks for the post Doc.
    Hi Steve–
    My pleasure.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  3. Wow! This is a great story and video. Thanks for sharing them on your page.
    I am the Mom of a disabled child and I see many parents of severely disabled children devoting their lives to their children. They are heros, like this dad. I have an easy life because my daughter just has Down Syndrome and my biggest battle with her is trying to get her on a low carb diet!
    Thanks again,
    Joanna Crombie
    Hi Joanna–
    I’m glad you enjoyed them.  Keep working on the low-carb diet with your daughter.  It will pay off.
    Best–
    MRE 

  4. I seen this video a about a week ago for the first time – very, very inspirational.
    However, I have a cautionary tale as well, as I wonder if the large volume of training required and the shear stress placed upon the body by these sorts of extreme endurance events didn’t contribute to his condition. Current medical dogma places too much emphasis on long, slow, steady-state aerobic activity for health, and I won’t be the least bit surprised if we find out someday that these extremes are in fact detrimental.
    Interval training has been shown to do everything steady-state aerobics can without the negative side effects like muscle atrophy.
    It’s time to stop running yourselves into the grave.
    Hi Neal–
    Good points all.  I agree completely.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  5. I saw the two of them pass by in last year’s Boston Marathon. What an incredible inspiration.
    Is there some chance that all that steady-state cardio exercise is not good for your ticker ? I wonder about the chronic low grade inflammation, oxidative stress and immune suppression that comes from multi-hour workouts. Are there any scientific studies that show damage from this sort of exercise ? I expect someone doing a slowburn/interval training type of workout a couple times a week would be better off.
    Hi Paul–
    There is a plethora of scientific information showing that hard, continuous endurance exercise causes a host of problems including increased inflammation, immune suppression, more frequent illnesses, joint problems, and a host of others.  But telling people who are deeply committed to such exercise that it’s bad for them is like telling vegetarians that their diet isn’t healthful.  They don’t believe it.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  6. Dr Perricone, the complexion doctor who wrote “The Wrinkle Cure” comes right out and states in his latest book about weight loss, that it is not good to exercise more than 20 minutes daily because of how inflammation gets in the way of weight loss and causes other types of problems in the body.
    It’s really frustrating to watch how this guy changed one word in the phrase “low carb diet”, and everybody pays attention ! By calling it the “anti-inflammatory diet” and selling it as a way for women to get a beautiful complexion, he sidestepped all the low carb controversy.
    Sigh. Maybe I should just tell my friends to go use the “anti-inflammatory diet” to get a beautiful face and forget bringing up their obesity and heart problems! They’ll be getting rid of them anyway!
    Hi LC–
    The South Beach Diet guy did the same thing.  He adamantly insists that his diet is NOT a low-carb diet, but it certainly is.  Same with Perricone.  At this point – at least in the publishing biz – low carb is a dirty word.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  7. The point is not that this type of exercise is bad or good but that this man has given himself and his son a type of satisfaction that very few people receive in life.Blessings come in many forms and I’ll be counting mine tonight.
    Hi John–
    I agree about the exercise giving this man great satisfaction and I admire him tremendously, but it doesn’t change the fact that hard core endurance exercise is not without risk.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  8. I made the mistake of playing this at work–half my department was in tears. I also remembered our next door neighbor, who was in supposedly stupendous shape but dropped dead at the age of 47. Thanks for sharing and for the caution.
    I’m glad you and your co-workers enjoyed and were inspired by it.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  9. Dr Mike, I had completely forgotten about Jim Fixx and how he died. I remember that in one of his books he had described a typical breakfast, and I remember it was both high in fat and carbs, a lethal combination.
    It would be good if you could compile a list of famous people like Fixx and Hoyt who have cardiovascular problems in spite of their rigorous exercise regimens. It would be a good list to show to the highcarb/lowfat crowd when they want to argue about how well their diet works.
    Hi LC–
    It would be nice to have such a list.  Maybe someone out there will have the time to compile it because I don’t right now.
    The problems of Jim Fixx and Dick Hoyt bring up an interesting situation that I wrote about in Slow Burn.  Although most people equate the two, there is a big difference between health and conditioning.  Both Fixx and Hoyt were (are) in terrific condition, but were (are) they healthy?  I wouldn’t think so since both had heart attacks.  Winston Churchill certainly wasn’t in very good condition, but he was pretty healthy since he lived to be 90+ years old.
    The trick is to be both in good condition and be healthy.  Exercise leads to conditioning.  Diet leads to good health.  Both, working together, give us the optimal situation.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

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