For most of us, commitment is just a three syllable word used to force is to keep the promises we make to ourselves or others. For some, it’s a way of life.
Dick Hoyt knows the meaning of commitment all too well. When his son Rick was born, complications in the delivery room left his firstborn son with cerebral palsy.
In the 1960’s, the answer to having a child with a disability was simple. Lock them away in an institution and let someone else worry about their care.
But Dick and his wife wouldn’t hear of it. They knew that their son was in there. They had hope that one day, he would be able to communicate with them like any other child.
And the moment they saw his tiny infant eyes following them across the room, they committed to giving Rick as normal a life as possible.
But raising a child with cerebral palsy was no easy feat.
Accommodations had to be made to the house and to the vehicles. Accommodations had to be made so Rick could communicate with his family — since he had no verbal skills.
It wasn’t until he was 13 that his family raised enough money to buy a $5000 computer that was specially made to help Rick speak.
When they got it, Rick’s mother thought his first words would be “Hi, Mom.” His dad thought they would be, “Hi, Dad.”
Instead, Rick said, “Go, Bruins!”
He was cheering for his favorite team in the Stanley Cup. As it turned out, Rick not only watched sports with his dad, Dick, but he followed, understood, and loved sports despite not being able to play.
That same year, Rick started going to school like all the other kids.
He came home one day and told his father about a five-mile fundraiser race that he wanted to participate in — but Rick’s cerebral palsy had left him a quadriplegic.
Rick would need help.
Dick agreed to push his son for the five-mile race to raise money for a local lacrosse player who was injured and had ended up in a wheelchair.
After the race, Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like my disability disappears.”
That settled it.
His dad decided after the race that he and Rick would keep running. He had committed to giving his son a normal childhood.
If running gave him the freedom to feel like everybody else, then, as a father, there was nothing else he’d rather do.
So the two started running.
First marathons. Dick would train day in and day out, pushing his son in his racing wheelchair. It was a time to bond. It was a time for Dick to keep the commitment he made the day he found out his son would be different.
Marathons turned into duathlons. Duathlons turned into triathlons.
Triathlons made Dick Hoyt a hero to a nation, but to Dick, he was just a parent doing what parents do.
“Rick is my motivator. He inspires me. To me, he’s the one out there competing and I’m just loaning him my arms and my legs so that he can compete.”
The way he loans Rick his arms and his legs would make even the fiercest competitor have second thoughts about competing.
During a triathlon, which is a competition of swimming, biking and running, Dick loads his son onto a raft and then tethers the raft to his midsection with a bungee cord. As he starts the swim portion of the competition, he pulls Rick behind him – every bit a part of the race as every other athlete.
When the other athletes are getting out of the water and shaking their arms and legs to get ready for the next event, the bike, Dick is picking up his son, carrying him out of the water and putting him in the makeshift double bike they will use for the next part of the competition.
He buckles Rick in. He puts his helmet on him. He makes sure he’s ready to go on.
And then Dick gets himself together. Gets his shoes on. Gets on the bike. And starts the second leg of the race.
The exertion of an athlete during a triathlon is part mental, part physical. They have to mentally transition even before they physically transition from one event to the next.
Dick has to transition for two.
When he refuels with food and drink to make sure he can go on, he also has to worry about Rick.
That’s only half the battle. He has to pedal a bike that is weighed down by his son and the extra heavy seat made to carry Rick to the next event.
But he stays fully committed to doing just that. He pedals. And pedals. Keeping an eye on the course. And an eye on Rick.
And then, another transition. Before they ever get off the bike, Dick has to mentally prepare for what comes next. A run.
Again, unlike his competition, Dick doesn’t just think about his legs going from a riding motion to a running motion.
When Dick jumps off the bike to start the run, he has to physically transition his son too. Dick has to move from the bike to a special wheelchair made for running. Again, he has to make sure Rick is safe and buckled and ready for the run — sometimes 6 miles, sometimes 26 miles.
Only after Rick is situated, does Dick feel ready to run. And then he takes off. Pushing his son in front of him for the remainder of the race, while Rick basks in the joy of feeling the wind rushing at him. Feeling like a normal person even if it’s just for 6 hours on a June day.
It would be easy to overlook the level of commitment it would take someone to run a race like that with their son in tow. Because most people don’t think about what it takes to train for an event like a triathlon or a marathon.
But the training itself is work. Athletes who participate in triathlons and other endurance sports have to practice every single day.
There are no days off.
They have to practice running, swimming, biking and transitioning from one event to the other.
They even have to practice eating and hydrating while biking and running. Dick Hoyt had to practice it all with Rick in front of him (or behind him in the water).
And yet, he doesn’t feel like his commitment makes him a hero.
Maybe it’s because when you are doing something so important to you, you will go the distance no matter what. Maybe your pain becomes secondary to the happiness of what is sitting in front of you.
That’s the level of commitment you need to take into your everyday life. Commit to your success — personal or business — as if it were your child. The child who just wants a “normal” life.
Dick Hoyt is a perfect example of what commitment looks like.
Over the last forty years, Dick and Rick have raced in over 1,000 races together. Garnering themselves the nickname “Team Hoyt.”
Together they have competed in and finished 6 Ironman competitions.
In 1992, the duo biked and ran 3,735 miles across the US — in 45 days flat.
And at 77 years old, Dick Hoyt is still racing with his son.
Ask yourself a tough question. What is it in your life that you are that committed to following through with?
“WHAT IS IT THAT DRIVES YOU TO DO THE HARD THINGS REGARDLESS OF HOW BAD IT HURTS?”
When is the last time you could look at yourself in the mirror and know that in that one thing you are completely committed?
That’s what committment is all about.