You may want to watch the video about Team Hoyt that I've linked to first. I guarantee that you'll be inspired too. If you don't have the time to watch the full 13 minutes about Team Hoyt right now, come back when you do have time. It's worth it.
In case you don't have time to watch right now, here's the story of Team Hoyt.
Team Hoyt: An Endurance Athletics Team With a Twist
Rick Hoyt is 51 years old. He has cerebral palsy, and can't walk or speak. His father, Dick Hoyt, is 73.
The two are known as Team Hoyt, and they do of endurance racing together: marathons, duathlons, and triathlons, including 6 Ironman competitions and a run across America that took 45 days to complete. Since 1977, Dick has pushed, pulled, and towed his son, using specialized equipment, in over 1000 races.
I had never heard of Team Hoyt before, and I made two assumptions about them when I first started watching the video that I now really regret. Having heard stories before about parents who, because they really enjoy an activity, assume that their children will as well, and seeing the severity of Rick's disabilities, I assumed that this was perhaps a case of a parent who, perhaps without any confirmation that Rick even enjoyed endurance racing, had made it his life.
I'm always talking about the need to stop making assumptions about disabled people, and I'm shocked at how easily I made this one - and the other that walks hand-in-hand with it, that because Rick doesn't communicate using spoken language, he must not communicate. I should know better than that.
Because Rick does communicate. His parents were so convinced that he could that in 1972 they had a computer constructed for him that would allow him to communicate. It was Rick who asked, using the computer, for his father to push him in his wheelchair for their first 5 mile race, and Rick who said afterward, "When I'm running, it feels like my disability disappears." It was his father that described Rick as "very competitive" and who said, "I think it's just something that comes from his body to my body that makes us go faster" when they race, and who cried when the interviewer suggested that the sound that Rick makes as they run must be "the prettiest sound in the world."
Regular readers know that I don't like to use the word "inspiring" when I talk about people with disabilities. I prefer to stay away from saying that Rick Hoyt inspires me, even though he's run all those races, lives alone, graduated from university, and is the face, with his father, of a foundation that helps disabled young people get involved with athletics. I think he's extraordinarily impressive and a fantastic role model, but I still shy away from that idea that he's inspiring because he's disabled.
The story of Tean Hoyt itself inspires me, though, and I was moved to tears by the video.
What Inspires Me About Team Hoyt
Thank God that Dick Hoyt didn't make the same assumption about his son that I did, and that doctors encouraged them to make - that he'd never be "well", that there was no "Rick" in their child's spastic body to know and respond to what was going on around him.
Dick and Judy Hoyt (now divorced) chose to raise their boy at home and "bring him up like any other child" - a brave choice in those days. They chose to believe that there *was* a boy "in there" and gave him a chance to communicate - and when did, his first words were "Go Bruins!", indicating that he not only enjoyed sports, but that he followed them. It inspires me that they insisted that the world give this boy a chance, that they fought for and won the right for him to go school in a time where getting a severely disabled child into a school would have been very difficult.
The difference that was made in this young man's life because somebody said, "I want to hear to what you have to say and I believe it's important," and because they then truly made it important - as important as what any non-disabled person had to say - is what inspires me about this story. In Rick's case, it was his father, his primary caregiver, and you can see in the video the bond of trust and caring that grew out of it. But it doesn't have to be a parent or caregiver that touches a person (disabled or not) that (metaphorically or literally) has been heard - it can be a friend, teacher, support worker, therapist, social worker...it's ideal when the message comes from everyone that's important to the person, and then everyone can both act as a support/resource and be an instrument in generating more support/resources according to their expertise.
Too many times, disabled people (especially those that don't communicate using oral language) don't get their desires for what they want in life taken as seriously as non-disabled do. It's like there's an expectation that they should be grateful with a certain level of fulfillment from life. The same expectation isn't made of non-disabled people. So when come across stories where someone says to a disabled person, "Your dreams are important, so let's see what we can do about getting you where you want to be"...I'm inspired.
And...I'm inspired by anyone who's been told that they don't have a right to dream, and then claims that right anyway.
So yes, Rick and Dick Hoyt inspire me. They inspire the hell out of me. Go Team Hoyt!
Watch the video, and then learn more about Team Hoyt here: http://www.teamhoyt.com/