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Rick Hoyt, a fixture at the Boston Marathon with his dad, dies at 61

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Rick Hoyt was known for competing in the Boston Marathon from his wheelchair while his father pushed. He has died from respiratory complications. NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with the father-son duo nearly a decade ago.

SACHA PFEIFFER, BYLINE: I met the Hoyts at Dick's home in the small central Massachusetts town of Holland. The house is a shrine to Team Hoyt - walls lined with medals and plaques they've won in their nearly 1,100 races and photos of them with luminaries they've met over the years.

DICK HOYT: See; this is Ronald Reagan, and this is Johnny Kelly...

PFEIFFER: Oh, yeah.

D HOYT: ...The great Johnny Kelly that ran the Boston Marathon.

PFEIFFER: They didn't imagine becoming such VIPs back when they first raced together, when Rick was 15 years old. Rick has cerebral palsy. His mind is intact, but he can't speak or control his limbs. One day, he used his computerized voice to tell his dad about a charity road race. It was for a student lacrosse player who'd been badly injured in an accident.

D HOYT: When Rick came home, he told me all about it. And he said, Dad, I have to do something for him. I want to let him know life goes on even though he's paralyzed. I want to run in the race.

PFEIFFER: At the time, Dick Hoyt was far from in top physical condition. He didn't want to say no to his son, though.

D HOYT: We finished a whole five miles, coming in next to last but not last.

(LAUGHTER)

D HOYT: And when we got home that night, Rick wrote on his computer, Dad, when I'm running, it feels like my disability disappears.

PFEIFFER: For Rick, being on a race course gave him the sense he was as able-bodied as all the other competitors.

D HOYT: He called himself free bird because now he was free and able to be out there competing and running with everybody else.

PFEIFFER: Then they began doing longer races and eventually set their sights on the Boston Marathon.

D HOYT: They made us qualify in Rick's age group, and that was kind of tough because Rick was in his 20s. I was in my 40s, and they were using Rick's age for us to qualify.

PFEIFFER: The Boston Marathon became an annual event for them.

RICK HOYT: The Boston Marathon is the one event that I look forward to all year long.

PFEIFFER: This is Rick's computerized voice, the one that lets him express all the ideas and feelings teeming in his head that his mouth can't produce.

R HOYT: The people along the way are the best. When I hear them yell our names out, it gives me a great feeling inside. Many people have asked me what I would do if I weren't disabled. I have thought long and hard about what I would do if I weren't in a wheelchair. Maybe I would play hockey, basketball or baseball. But then I thought about it some more and realized that what I would probably do first is tell my dad to sit down in the wheelchair, and now I would push him.

SHAPIRO: That was NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer's 2014 interview with Boston Marathon icon Rick Hoyt, who died yesterday at the age of 61. Rick's father, Dick Hoyt, died in 2021. Together, they completed more than a thousand races, including 32 Boston Marathons. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.