February 4, 2010

Disability as a Picture of the Gospel of Christ

We are all disabled.
We are all like Rick Hoyt. When Rick was born in 1962, he was strangled by the umbilical cord attaching him to his mother, leaving him quadriplegic, non-speaking, and with cerebral palsy. Most people, including his own doctors, considered him to have limited mental capacity and urged his parents to place him in an institution. His parents thought otherwise and pushed engineers to create a communication device for Rick that would enable him to express what they knew was happening in his brain.  Finally, at age 11, he typed his first words out on the communication device: “Go Bruins!”
When Rick was in high school, a lacrosse player in their community was paralyzed in an accident. Rick told his dad, Dick, that he wanted to run in the charity race being planned to help the teenager. So Dick Hoyt, who rarely ran more than a mile at a time, strapped on his running shoes and pushed Rick in a wheelchair for five exhausting miles. Afterward, Rick typed, “Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore!”
Those words proved to be a catalyst. Dick and Rick signed up to run a marathon, which led to many more, always with Dick pushing Rick for the 26.2 miles a marathon required. In the beginning, they were often not “official” participants because of the unusual circumstances of their participation. 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. But you can’t really blame them - people often are not educated, and they’d never seen anyone like us. As time went on, though, they could see he was a person — he has a great sense of humor, for instance. That made a big difference."[1]
After four years of marathons, the Hoyts competed in their first triathlon. Dick swam 2.4 miles with Rick in a boat attached by a rope to Dick’s waist, biked for 112 miles with Rick sitting on a newly-built bike, and then ran 26.2 miles while pushing Rick in a special chair. What began as a five-mile charity run has become over 85 marathons, 212 triathlons, cross-country skiing, mountain climbing (with Rick on Dick’s back), and trekking across the United States by bike. The Hoyts have competed in the famed Boston marathon, with their best time coming in 1992: 2 hours and 40 minutes, which is only 35 minutes off the world record. This proves more amazing considering the world record holder didn’t compete while pushing a fully-grown man in a chair.
Rick Hoyt is physically handicapped and could never accomplish such feats without the complete assistance of his father. Spiritually, we are just like him. We, too, are disabled, not physically but by our humanity and our sin. It is only by the complete assistance of our Father, through Jesus Christ, that we are capable of any good. People with physical and mental disabilities are a tangible reminder of this truth. My son is a walking, talking reminder that we are all in need of a Father who has gone to great lengths for us and is willing, in our disability, to carry us through life and into eternity. He is able to show Himself powerful and to receive glory through the things in our world that we consider weaknesses.

[1] “Racing Toward Inclusion” by David Tereshchuk as seen on www.teamhoyt.com. Dick and Rick Hoyts’ story can be followed through word and video at www.teamhoyt.com