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There is no practical way I can articulate all of the things I’ve learned from Team Hoyt in a single blog post because I’m not sure I can even identify all the lessons this incredible community has taught me. Still, I spent seven days last month jogging across Massachusetts and thinking about all the strength, joy, and wisdom that this family has given me and for that I’m incredibly thankful.

First and foremost, this community has taught me the power of unconditional love. A Marine of mine sent me the famous “Can only Imagine” Team Hoyt video a decade ago in Iraq. I, like everyone else, cried from the opening shot. I had always wanted kids the way most Midwestern small town girls want kids, but in watching the love between Rick and Dick, I could physically feel my own desire to love someone like that.  

This community has taught me how to give less fucks about the unimportant stuff. I noticed this years ago at a Team Hoyt San Diego dinner. Jim Pathman was giving a speech and a rider-athlete had begun to make noise, the kind of noise that normally inspire folks to turn and stare. Jim didn’t miss a beat and not a head turned. Why? Because it really didn’t matter. Following social norms and rules is all well and good, but it’s also pretty boring and wholly unnecessary. Uptight people need not apply to Team Hoyt. The families of Team Hoyt athletes have much bigger things to use their energy on, they can’t be bothered to ensure everyone else feels comfortable with who their child/brother/sister is. We should all be a little less worried about that.

Team Hoyt has taught me that we all belong. The drivers in Massachusetts have been, by far, the most courteous of all the states. Most moved lanes and slowed down to pass me, giving a little wave or flash of the headlights to tell me they saw me. I quickly noticed that if one car in the line did this, the rest would follow. As in life, it just takes one person to set the standard of kindness and grace. We’re social mimics, it’s wired in our brain to follow the examples of those around us. Luckily for me, Rick and Dick Hoyt set a standard decades ago that have inspired thousands, maybe millions, of others. If I’m going to mimic those around me, I’m glad I get to spend so many miles with Team Hoyt.

I was thankful for the kind drivers, running on back roads up and down hills and around corners was nerve-wracking at times. This was especially so on the unmarked roads where the asphalt lane and the gravel shoulder mixed with no discernible delineation between the territory of the car and domain of the sneakers. When running on a road without a white line, I felt vulnerable. I ran quickly through these sections of towns, hurriedly getting the safety of the white line, as if it was a true barrier between me and the dangers of the traffic. I see this off the road every day. We feel comfortable in lanes. We feel safe in spaces that are designated for “us,” leaving others in spaces dedicated for “them.” But all too often that white line is arbitrary. That white line didn’t keep me safe. Staying in my lane didn’t protect me.

People don’t “belong” to the space that makes everyone comfortable. People belong where they are needed. When Rick and Dick started running, people were cruel. The original Team Hoyt withstood constant criticism that they were taking up too much space and that people like Rick didn’t “belong” in races. People like Rick didn’t “belong” in college. There was an arbitrary white line between typical folks (whatever that means) and special needs folks. That line has faded thanks to them. I’ve, but once or twice, gotten a snide comment or look from folks in races. I once ran into the achilles of a woman at mile 25 of the Marine Corps Marathon - completely my fault. She turned around furious (rightfully so) and as soon as she saw Bella SHE apologized to ME for being in our way. That’s 100% a result of Rick and Dick Hoyt and the message of inclusion that they’ve inspired.

Team Hoyt shows us that life is better with fewer white lines. It shows us that we all deserve to take up space and we deserve to take up as much space as we need. Wheelchairs take up space, so we have to move a few chairs around when we go to dinner, big deal. So you have to move a little more to the left when you pass us, easy day. If it’s one thing this country has, it’s space and we should feel more comfortable taking the space we need.

Team Hoyt has taught me the power of connection in running. I started running in Jr High because I was tired of losing softball games. I wanted a solo sport where I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to win.

What an arrogant and ignorant girl I was.

I’ve rarely experienced running truly alone, and never with Team Hoyt. There is a love that happen mid-race between teammates, a mutual respect and bond between equal teammates that’s truly unbelievable unless you’ve seen or experienced it yourself. It’s humbling and empowering all at once.  

I’m never the center of attention at a Team Hoyt event. As much as I wanted to run that first mile to show how great I was, running with Team Hoyt has repeatedly reminded me that it’s not about me. I’m the support role in these teams. I come in second, always. I’m the Cal to my Ricky Bobby. There’s a freedom to that relative insignificance. It takes the spotlight and pressure of you, allows you to work for others and moreover enjoy the work.

The Team Hoyt families epitomize the ideas of resilience and resourcefulness. Team Hoyt exists because Rick and Dick decided to “adapt and overcome.” They live the concept of “rising up.” Every. Single. Day. They do this out of love. They remind us that love is the most powerful of all. Love strengthens us to endure, persevere, and thrive through struggles.  

I’ve often seen the phrase “we run for those who can’t.” And I love that concept. I love the idea of being grateful for your capabilities and for using your abilities for others. But that’s not Team Hoyt. We don’t run because our athletes can’t. We run because they can, in their own way, and together we can run. Sure it’s not always the physical act of step in front of step, but any runner will tell you that the soul of running isn’t in the footsteps. It’s in the miles ticking by and the wind, rain, sweat, and tears in your face. It’s moving through a space, taking all the space you need, breathing in all air you need, it’s feeling the power and freedom of your own body, and the joy and strength of your own soul. And with Team Hoyt, we get to share all that with another person and an entire family.