January 12, 2011

Acts of Independence

Team Hoyt running a triathlon in the 1980s.

Rick Hoyt graduating from Boston University.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- So much has changed since Rick Hoyt came into this world back in 1962 — umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, oxygen lost, brain damaged. He was left a beautiful, perfect-looking baby boy with cerebral palsy, unable to talk or move on his own. 
That is where his father comes into the story. 
Dick Hoyt, now 70, of Holland, Mass., devoted himself to making sure his son grew up like every other child. He never took “no” for an answer. He refused to settle for special treatment for his son, and fought for his son’s right to be educated in a public setting next to his peers. 
Today they are known around the world as Team Hoyt after they began running marathons and triathlons together in 1977. More than 30 years later, the two continue to run races together just about every weekend, raising awareness and bringing hope to other families. 
Between races, Dick Hoyt saw to it that his son got what he needed to live an independent life, and it has worked out well. 

Rick Hoyt continues to live independently in his own apartment six miles from his family, with daily help from personal care attendants. He was the first student with his level of disability to graduate from Boston University, earning a degree in special education — speaking volumes about his abilities. 
“Rick is determined. He knows what he wants — he wanted to be independent. 
How do you send someone away to college who can’t talk or use his arms and legs? But that’s what he wanted to do. He went to bars and partied like everyone else,” said his dad.
“My wife and I vowed to bring him up like any other child — only we hadn’t brought up any other children yet — he was our first,” said Rick Hoyt, who will be the keynote speaker during a special Transition Planning Parent Information Night Jan. 20 at Pinkerton Academy, geared toward parents of children with disabilities. 
The three-hour event, sponsored by the Transition Planning Collaborative, will give parents direct contact with 34 different advocacy organizations including Easter Seals and Granite State Independent Living. They can sign up for classes taught by instructors from the UNH Institute on Disability on topics including creative financing, future planning and how to make a go of self-employment through creating a micro-enterprise. 
“It’s a great way of getting parents educated as to how it will be different once their kids leave high school. In school you have a support team; once you leave high school, it’s not the same — adult services are a totally different situation,” said Jay Morgan, a special education teacher at Pinkerton who organizes the annual informational night. 
“Parents have to be brought up to speed. They’re used to going to meetings and saying, ‘What will you do to help son or daughter?’ Now the weight shifts the other way, and so we work toward helping to fill in the blanks,” Morgan said. 
He estimated about 1 percent of students in any school population that have an Individualized Education Program also have a developmental disability which, at a school the size of Pinkerton, equates to about 35 students. 
But add to that students from the other high schools in the collaborative — Goffstown, Londonderry, Pelham, Salem, Timberlan and Windham — and there is more power in the numbers, and more resources to go around. 
“Since bringing in the other districts six years ago, it’s been great to see so many more students get access to the resources they need. Other students go to college night, and it always felt like those not going to college night were left behind. We thought they deserved a chance to have their own get-together. And by virtue of getting them together, we’ve realized parents wanted classes so they could learn more about how to help their kids beyond high school, they just didn’t know how to ask,” Morgan said. 
Dick Hoyt will tell you that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. 
When the rest of the world told him his son should be institutionalized because he’d only be a vegetable, Hoyt simply looked into his son’s eyes and saw something else. 
“I knew he understood everything. We taught him the alphabet and how to read. 
Everything we did, he did; everywhere we went, he went,” Hoyt said. “The easiest thing is to give up and not fight for your kid, but I’d tell parents to keep fighting. Don’t fear the future. Just look into their eyes and you’ll see what they need, and what you have to do to help them.”

To register for the Transition Planning Parent Information Night, call 437-5200 ext. 1105, or e-mail
jaymorgan@gmail.com. The firest 100 families to register recieve a free autographed copy of their choice of "Devoted" or "Rick’s Story," which tell the story of Team Hoyt, one from a father's perspective and the other, from a son's.

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