Inner Fire: The truly great use adversity as fuel.

By Don Yaeger
Don is a four-time New York Times Bestselling author and former Sports Illustrated Associate Editor. Using rich, personal accounts gathered from more than 20 years of interviews with many of today’s greatest sports legends, Don has distilled Sixteen Consistent Characteristics of Greatness, which he will share at the National Association of Realtors Leadership Summit on August 23, 2011.

Dick and Rick Hoyt are a father-son team who together compete almost every weekend in some back-breaking marathon. And if they’re not in a marathon, they are in a triathlon – some of them daunting Ironman-length events which are a combination of 26.2 miles of running, 112 miles of biking and 2.4 miles of swimming. Together they have climbed mountains, and once trekked 3,735 miles across America.

It’s a remarkable record of exertion and discipline – all the more so when you consider that Rick can’t walk or talk.

For more than 30 years, 70-year-old Dick has pushed and pulled his son across the country and over hundreds of finish lines. When Dick runs, he pushes Rick in a wheelchair. When Dick cycles, Rick is in a seat on the front of the bike. And when Dick swims, he pulls Rick in an inflatable dinghy.

Rick’s fight started at birth when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. “The doctors told us that Rick would be a vegetable for the rest of his life,” Dick told me while working together on Team Hoyt’s autobiography, released this spring. “They told us to forget him. Put him in an institution. On our way home, my wife and I cried.” But the Hoyt’s refused to abandon Rick and, much to the surprise of doctors and others around him, Rick responded. “When you looked in his eyes and he was looking right at you, you could tell there was a lot going on up there,” said Dick.

At 12-years-old Rick proved doctors wrong when he found his voice through a computer called the Hope Machine. Soon after, Rick learned of a five-mile charity race for an athlete from his school that had been paralyzed in an accident. Through his computer, Rick told his father he wanted to show his support. Dick doubted that he, a self-described “porker,” could run five miles while pushing Rick in a wheelchair, but he gave it a shot.

“That first race almost killed me,” Dick remembers. But none of that mattered when Rick typed out, “Dad, when we were running it feels like I’m not paralyzed anymore.”

That was all Dick needed to hear. The sentence changed their lives. And it changed the lives of countless others, too. “Team Hoyt” was born and their story, captured on YouTube and in the media, has inspired tens of thousands of others.

Today the duo is embraced by all who meet or even hear of them, but it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, Dick remembers, “Nobody wanted Rick in a road race. Everybody looked at us, nobody talked to us, nobody wanted to have anything to do with us.” Even the Boston Marathon, which Team Hoyt competes in every year, wouldn’t let them compete until they completed a qualifying race in record time.

But Dick never gave up. His motivation is singular and selfless. He is determined to give his son a better life, a life that transcends the limitations of his body.

“He is not just my arms and legs,” writes Rick. “He’s my inspiration, the person who allows me to live my life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same.”

To learn more about Team Hoyt, visit their website at To order a copy of their new book, Devoted, go to

Tips from the Great Ones

Dick and Rick Hoyt are living proof that the power of adversity, when harnessed, can fuel limitless internal strength.

Adversity is one of the most potent forces in life. One that can bring out the best or the worst – build you up or tear you down. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

Every person faces all kinds of adversity every day, whether it’s internal – like depression, poor health or insomnia – or external – like a natural disaster, canceled flight or speeding ticket.

When you come face to face with these setbacks, you must use your resources to create opportunities. Your problems have no mind of their own – so outsmart them. Think of one hardship that has been weighing on your mind lately and take it head on. Stop procrastinating and making excuses. The idea is to tackle adversity proactively, not just when you are forced to, because this is what gives you the advantage.

Your reaction to adversity shapes your character, clarifies your priorities and defines your path. And, as in Dick and Rick’s case, it can fuel your greatness.

  1. Always good advice! I really enjoyed reading your article.