April 25

minute read

Four Keys to Overcoming Adversity

In 1977, fifteen-year-old Rick Hoyt told his dad Dick that he wanted to run a 5-k race.  It was a charity race to benefit a lacrosse player at his school who had become paralyzed.  

There was one problem.  Rick couldn’t run. He couldn't even walk.  Rick was a quadriplegic.

This is a story of overcoming adversity.  It’s a tale of love and dedication.  You see, Rick did run that race.  He ran it with his dad. 

In this story, you’ll find four keys to turning adversity into achievement:

  • Identify what you want
  • Determine why it's important
  • Detach from how you will do it
  • Reframe Adversity to Opportunity

Identify What You Want

Rick Hoyt was born with Cerebral Palsy.  His umbilical cord had twisted around his neck, cutting off his oxygen supply.  

Doctors advise Rick's parents to institutionalize their son, telling them he would amount to nothing more than a vegetable.  But, the Hoyts saw something the doctors didn't.  They noticed Rick responding to them with his eyes.  

They knew he was aware.  And, they knew what they wanted.    They wanted their son to have a life.

Rick couldn't talk, but his parents knew he was trying to communicate. The Hoyts knew what they wanted.  They wanted to speak with their son. 

They spent eleven years consulting with experts and doctors to find a way for Rick to talk.  In 1972, after Dick raised $5,000 to pay for it, engineers at Tufts University created a computer that allowed Rick to communicate by typing out words with his head.  

In 1977, when Rick told his dad he wanted to run in that 5-k race, Dick found a way.  He pushed Rick in a wheelchair.  And, though they finished next to last, after the race, Rick told his dad that when they were running that race, he didn't feel disabled.

Dick knew what he wanted.  He wanted to replicate that feeling for his son.  Over the next 37 years, they would run more than 1130 races, including seventy-two marathons and six Ironman Triathlons.

Determine Why It's Important

When the Hoyts ran that first race in 1977, Dick was not a runner.  In order to be able to provide that experience for Rick again, he would need to train.  Every day, while Rick was at school, Dick would run five miles, pushing a wheelchair with a bag of cement. 

When they participated in triathlons, not only would he push Rick in a Wheelchair, he would swim, pulling a boat with Rick in it. It was grueling.  

How was Dick able to do it?  In Dick's words, he kept his mind right.  Dick would tell you that when overcoming adversity, "It's your thinking that makes the difference."  

Dick would tell you that success always comes back to mindset.  How did he keep his mind right?  Dick knew what was important.  

He wanted Rick to live. He wanted Rick to understand what it was like not to be handicapped.  

When you know what you want and why you want to achieve it, you just get after it.  You take action.

Detach From The How

In 1980 the Hoyts registered to run in the Boston Marathon.  Race officials declined their application. They ran anyway, unofficially, following the official entrants.  

Year after year, they continued to register.  Year after year, there were new reasons why they would not be allowed to run officially.  

It wasn't until after they ran an incredible two-hour-forty-minute Marathon in Virginia that they were finally allowed to run in the Boston Marathon officially.

Imagine the frustration of being told, "No."  Over and over again.

Dick never gave up.  He said it was important never to get discouraged and never get disappointed.  He just took action, observed the results, and adjusted.  

He never got caught up in the details of how.  He knew what he wanted.  He knew why it was important.  And, he charged forward.

Overcoming Adversity by Reframing

"The best thing to happen to me in my life came from the worst thing to happen to me in my life."  - Dick Hoyt

Dick Hoyt died on March 21, 2021.  He died peacefully in his sleep.  Rick graduated from Boston University in 1993 with a degree in special education.  He worked at Boston College in a computer lab designing systems for people with disabilities to communicate.

Though I never met the Hoyts, they've left a lasting impression on me.  We all face adversity.  We will all be told, "No."  

Dick didn't let that stop him.  He reframed the hardship and saw nothing but opportunity.  He lived with the determination that no meant not yet.

He taught us that how you think about success, how you think about challenges, and how you think about difficulties will determine the outcome you get.


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