[Editor's Note: This article was updated at 3:20 p.m. on Feb. 27 with flyers for Tammy Stapleton's fundraising party on March 4.]
Every runner at this year’s 116th edition of the Boston Marathon will be looking for a little extra inspiration at some point during the grueling 26.2-mile course.
When Reading resident Tammy Stapleton needs to dig down and find that little bit extra, she won’t have to look very far for motivation.
Stapleton will be part of this year’s chapter in what has been one of the best stories to come out of the Boston Marathon in the history of the world’s most famous road race—the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt.
Stapleton, a former special education teacher in North Reading and mother of three girls, will be running with Team Hoyt this year on April 16, as they celebrate their 30th marathon.
“Just what they stand for, their dedication and everything they’ve accomplished in their lives. It’s amazing,” said Stapleton. “I’ve always been inspired by them ... If he can get his own body, and another human body across the finish line, why can’t I? What’s my excuse?”
Triumph of Body and Spirit
When one considers that 30 years ago, the idea of Rick Hoyt finishing a single marathon seemed like as much of a possibility as spinning gold from lead, it becomes clear what a truly remarkable achievement this represents.
Rick Hoyt, who celebrated his 50th birthday in January, spends each day in a wheelchair as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, the result of oxygen deprivation at birth.
Rick’s father, Dick, tried to enroll his son in North Reading schools, and was advised to place his son in an institution, as there was no chance of him recovering and little hope of him living a normal life. That began the quest of Dick Hoyt and his wife Judy, who soon realized that, although their son could not walk or speak, Rick was quite astute and able to learn like everybody else. In 1977, Rick wanted to take part in a 5K race to benefit a lacrosse player who was paralyzed in an accident. Dick pushed Rick through the five kilometers, and although they finished next to last, after the race, Rick said: “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”
Right then and there, Team Hoyt was born.
Dick Hoyt has pushed his son and his wheelchair for every inch of the 26.2 miles on 29 previous occasions, and millions of marathon fans, and those who simply revel in the triumph of the human spirit, have become familiar with the inspiring and infinitely heartwarming tale of Team Hoyt.
After unsuccessfully attempting to join in 2011, Stapleton was invited to be a part of Team Hoyt’s 30th anniversary charity team, and she wasted no time in jumping at the opportunity.
“I didn’t actually know you could apply to run with Team Hoyt,” said Stapleton. “They’ve always been on a pedestal for me ... I actually saw them at one of the triathlons I ran ... They passed me. They’ve passed me quite a few times.”
Dick and Rick Hoyt also have numerous triathlons under their belts—Dick pulls Rick in a boat with a bungee cord around his waist.
A seasoned triathlete and 5k runner, Stapleton’s first 26.2-mile jaunt came in 2010 as a member of Mass. Eye & Ear’s marathon team, but, linking up with charity heavyweights like Team Hoyt comes with some pretty impressive perks—like personalized instruction from three-time Boston Marathon women’s champion Uta Pippig, the former No. 1 ranked marathoner in the world.
“It’s an amazing opportunity. When I joined Team Hoyt, I just thought it would be neat to run with people who I admire so much, but all the little perks ... [Pippig] has given us a training plan ... I’m going to use a training strategy called “periodization,” where you increase you mileage week-to-week and then you drop down.”
Stapleton lives with her husband Donald and their three young daughters Riley (6), Ella (5) and Devyn (3), on Bond Street, and feels the new training regimen will work out better than her last Boston Marathon training routine, in 2010, as the plan Pippig has put in place calls for slowing down to give the body a break. Something Stapleton said she didn’t do the last time around.
“I think this will work better for me,” Stapleton said of the new running schedule. “It’s better for my family life; I’m pretty busy with the girls, and my poor husband ... I’m gone for the day a lot of the time.”
Worth the Sacrifice
She doesn’t mind the long hours of training, though. Especially not when it’s all for such a worthy cause.
“It’s nice to be able to do it for something bigger than yourself,” Stapleton said. “It’s nice to know the money is going to a good cause ... Being able to do it for charity that is close to my heart makes it all the more special. It gives meaning to the whole thing.”
None of the funds raised go to fund the Hoyt Foundation as it is completely run by volunteers. The organization gives gifts each year of $25,000 to the Easter Seals summer camp programs and $25,000 to Children's Hospital-Boston for the Augmentative Communications Enhancement Program.
Stapleton said she is looking forward to the marathon, and remembers vividly her first time running into Copley Square.
“I always tell people, for me, running the Boston Marathon the first time was one of the highlights of my life, besides my wedding and the births of my three girls,” she said. “It was amazing. It’s so challenging. But that day, you’re just running, you’re in the zone and you have people cheering your name. It’s emotional.”
Adding to the emotion this year, will be the fact that she will be part of the 30th Boston Marathon for Rick and Dick Hoyt, whose story began in the town where she once worked as a special education teacher. Whose story has already inspired her and so many others so much.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Stapleton of running with Rick, now 50, and his father Dick Hoyt, who at 72 shows no signs of slowing down.
“There are so many amazing stories,” she said. “Just to have little old me running ... Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. I’m like, who am I?”
This year, she is a part of one of the best stories in all of sports, not just the Boston Marathon.