When Push Comes To Love

Team Hoyt Virginia Beach raised a record $25,000 for charity this year. Photo: TeamHoytVB.com

Team Hoyt Virginia Beach ready to rock ‘n’ roll for charity this weekend.

At the 2006 Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, Trey White did what most runners do before a big race: he performed a few striders, shook his legs out and waited patiently for the start of his 13.1-mile solo journey. But something was different this time around.

Team Hoyt Virginia Beach raised a record $25,000 for charity this year. Photo: TeamHoytVB.com

Before the gun went off, White noticed an older man nearby who was standing in front of what looked like a jogging stroller. Not used to seeing something like this at a race, his interest was piqued and he walked over to check it out. White noticed the man was pushing his son, who was suffering from cerebral palsy. And although he didn’t know it at the time, he had just met the famous father-son duo of Dick and Rick Hoyt—a team that has run over 1,000 endurance events together in the past 30 years. White, the father of a special-needs child himself, instantly connected with Dick. His own daughter, Katie, suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.

“When I saw Dick and Rick that day, I said to myself, ‘Boy that would be fun to run with Katie next year and let her experience what Rick was experiencing,’” White recalls.

Team Hoyt Virginia Beach was born that day.

After that memorable encounter, White, a former cross country runner at Hampden-Sydney College, wrote the Hoyts, asking if he could join them in next year’s race.

They agreed.

But White, a dentist by profession and a natural networker, didn’t just show up to the 2007 Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon with only his daughter Katie. He used the year in between the two races to found a local chapter of Team Hoyt—the only such chapter in the world. Joining White at the starting line that year were six other teams consisting of a “pusher” and rider-athlete. By 2008, Team Hoyt Virginia Beach had grown threefold, and toeing the line at this year’s race will be a record 55 “pushers” and 35 rider athletes, who have raised a record $25,000 for the charity.

“We’re pretty much a big family,” White admits.

Team Hoyt Virginia Beach’s “pushers” meet for group runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays year round. They cover about 20 miles a week. Together with their rider athletes, the team competes in six races a year throughout the Virginia Beach area. The majority of the rider athletes age from two to 34 and live at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children in Norfolk, Virginia.

Pushing these rider athletes isn’t easy. White compares running with the gargantuan jogging chairs to sailing a boat with a spinnaker sail. “As long as we don’t have a big headwind, we’re ok,” White says. In additional to battling the winds, the pushers are also prevented from using their arms for momentum—something runners are accustomed to depending on.

But despite all these obstacles, any of the pushers on Team Hoyt Virginia Beach will tell you the benefits of their efforts far outweigh the disadvantages.

“It’s mentally exhilarating and uplifting. It takes the mental obstacles out of running. You have an automatic partner with you, someone who is relying completely on you, someone who is there to cheer you on. You are essentially their legs,” White says.

Team Hoyt Virginia Beach intends to use the proceeds from this year’s Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon to fund an upcoming trip to a still-to-be-determined race. The top two candidates are next year’s Walt Disney World Half Marathon or April’s Boston Marathon. Many of the chapter’s rider-athletes have never left Virginia and the trip is aimed at being an enjoyable, life-changing experience for them. Thanks to the additional support from Virginia Beach’s TowneBank, Team Hoyt Virginia Beach now has a specially fitted $6,000 trailer complete with air compressors and room for 50 jogging chairs.

Though a cohesive group of like-minded, selfless runners, there’s still a lot of internal competition amongst the members of Team Hoyt Virginia Beach. At stake in this weekend’s race is the much-sought-after Team Hoyt Virginia Beach first-place medal. “Even though we say that we are just going out for the fun, there is still a race to be had. It’s friendly competition with excessive banter,” White says. Logically, it would seem that the pusher with the lightest rider-athlete would win the medal, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Last week, in the final race leading up to this weekend’s half marathon–a 5K–the winner was the one who pushed the largest rider athlete.

Friendly competition aside, Team Hoyt Virginia Beach is a collection of selfless runners dedicated to giving back to their community. Of the 55 pushers taking part in this weekend’s half marathon, only four have children with special needs.

“It’s amazing,” White says. “The mentality used to be that we would institutionalize people with disabilities. That’s not the mindset anymore, and that’s a good thing.”

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Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, was recently released.

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