Boston Marathon 2015: Dawn of An Exciting New Era for Team Hoyt
The runner pushing a wheelchair loaded with two 60-pound sandbags has become a familiar sight this year on the snowy streets of Methuen, Massachusetts.
That would be Bryan Lyons, a genial 45-year-old dentist who is preparing for the daunting task of filling the footsteps of Dick Hoyt, one half of the Boston Marathon’s beloved father-and-son wheelchair duo, Team Hoyt.
Those bulky sandbags weigh roughly the same as Rick Hoyt—the other half of the team—whose chair Brian will be pushing in this year’s marathon.
Last year, Dick, 74, completed his 32nd Boston Marathon, pushing son Rick—born with cerebral palsy—over the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton. The deafening cheers and emotional tears which hailed their crossing of the finish line on Boylston Street for the last time spoke volumes about their stature as icons of the world’s oldest annual marathon.
The passing years and back problems had finally caused Dick to pass on the reins in Boston. But Rick, 53, was not ready to give up racing.
Enter Bryan Lyons, a Hoyt Foundation charity runner since 2009, who will be taking over the running and pushing duties at the 119th Boston Marathon on April 20. He knows well the love the Boston crowd has for Dick and Rick: he was among the Team Hoyt runners who set aside personal time goals last year to finish with father and son and share the spectators’ massive outpouring of affection along the course. And if he needs any reminder of the tough act he has to follow he will be passing a bronze statue of the Hoyts in Hopkinton on his way to the start line!
“I’m not replacing Dick—no one could,” Brian tells Take The Magic Step. “I’m merely a fresher set of legs—and my heart and my inspiration is sitting in the running chair in front of me.”
He became close to Rick after joining the team. “The first time I met him I didn’t know how to speak with him,” he remembers. I told Dick, ‘Say hello to Rick.’ He said, ‘Tell him yourself.’ I did, and a friendship developed.”
Bryan, who ran in college and dental school, had been going through some self-described “dark times” of his own after a drunk driver hit his car in 2001. Left with excruciating back injuries, it was five long years before he could run as far as five miles without pain.
“It was such an honor to be asked to take Dick’s place. The love and perseverance that he has shown over the years has always awed and inspired me. To be part of that now is indescribable.”
How does he feel about following the footsteps of a legend? “It’s a little overwhelming,” he admits. “I try to tell myself I’m just a friend going for a run with a friend. It’s not so overwhelming when I think of it that way.”
Bryan and Rick—the new Team Hoyt—have already completed 5K and 10K races together, as well as a half marathon in the sunshine of San Diego that they finished in 2hrs 10 mins. And a strong finish in their toughest test to date—the Eastern States 20-miler on March 29—gave them added confidence. But with New England hit by the worst winter weather in memory, Bryan took Dick’s advice and has been using those sandbags to simulate Rick’s weight in the chair, pushing their 120 pounds on grueling training runs as long as 22 miles.
“I get some funny looks,” smiles the 5-9, 175-lb bachelor. “One day, a woman asked me, ‘are those really sandbags?’ When I told her yes, she said, ‘It seems kinda silly to run with a stroller full of sandbags.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the ‘stroller’ was a fine-tuned high tech racing chair.”
For the 2015 Marathon, he and Rick will be supported by 30 Hoyt Foundation runners—guided on their journey once again by Uta—and Bryan knows the Boston course well: his best time running alone is 4:14. But running while pushing Rick’s chair is a tough new challenge and he is grateful for the strategy sessions he has shared with Dick and the advice the old master has given him about how to handle Boston’s famous hills—up and down!
“But, most importantly, Rick and I are learning to be on the same page,” he says. “His nutrition and comfort, are critical during the marathon. I will need to know if he’s hungry, if he’s thirsty, if he’s comfortable. During the race I’ll have to know when to stop and ask him.”
“I know that if he’s smiling when we cross that finish line, nothing else matters.”