HOLLAND, Mass. (AP) -- The year was 1992, and Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, wanted to run and bike across the country to raise funds for a charity for cerebral palsy -- a condition 30-year-old Rick developed at birth.
But the charity didn't want anything to do with a trek across the United States.
"And, uh, so this insurance company that was going to finance us backed out with four weeks to go before -- so we had to refinance our house here so we are able to pick up the expenses," Dick Hoyt recalled recently, sitting next to his quadriplegic son at their home in the hills of western Massachusetts.
Twenty-one years later, after running, biking and swimming together in some of the world's highest-profile competitions, 73-year-old father and 51-year-old son are among the most recognized faces at the granddaddy of them all -- the Boston Marathon.
One of the race's sponsors recently unveiled a life-size statue in their honor in the town where the race starts. Another backer, Timex, pushed so strongly to be identified with the duo that it would allow them to talk to The Associated Press only if the article mentioned the two are promoting the watch maker's social media campaign.
They've gone from being skeptics dogged by veiled references about abuse to visionaries, even heroes, mirroring how perception and treatment of people with disabilities have changed over the years.
"When we started running in road races and stuff, I used to get a lot of phone calls and letters from other families that had disabled people, and they were very upset with me; they said, 'What are you doing dragging the disabled son through all these races? Are you just looking for glory for yourself?'" Dick Hoyt said. "What they didn't realize: He was the one dragging me through all these races."
Father and son had to get creative to race together.
Dick pushes Rick in a specially designed wheelchair when they run together. When swimming, Rick wears a life jacket and is belted into a seat that's towed by a rope attached to Dad's wetsuit vest. For biking, the younger Hoyt sits in a chair at the front of Dad's bicycle.
Rick developed a severe form of cerebral palsy, a condition that limits motor skills, during birth, when the umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck and cut oxygen to his brain.
Dick rejected doctors' suggestions that he put his infant son in an institution. Rick later went to public school and joined Boston University.
"This would prove one of the most difficult tasks I'd ever endure, but, finally, after nine long years, I became the first quadriplegic to graduate from the Boston University School of Education," Rick said through a computer synthesizer he uses for communication. "This has been my greatest personal accomplishment to date because I have shown to disabled people that they don't have to sit back and watch the world go by."
Rick has run, biked and swum with his father in 1,092 races -- including 252 triathlons, 70 marathons and 95 half-marathons -- over the past 34 years, including a wartime race in El Salvador in which they had to be escorted by armed men.
Kim Rossiter, of Virginia Beach, Va., a major in the U.S. Marines, says the Hoyts inspired him to go running with his 9-year-old daughter, Ainsley, after she was diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder that keeps her in a wheelchair.
"Immediately, my family found a therapy. It's a therapy like no other," said Rossiter, who has run in at least 42 races with Ainsley. "You cannot imagine the look on her face as the wind blows in her face while running."
Tammy Stapleton, of Reading, Mass., is a mother of three girls who will be running Boston for the third time this year, after raising more than $12,000 for the nonprofit Hoyt Foundation Inc., which helps disabled people get specialized wheelchairs and communication equipment, as well as access to therapeutic animals.
"The Hoyts are my heroes, and the girls look up to them," Stapleton said. "Dick is doing it not for his own glory."
It all began at a college basketball game where Rick, 19 at the time, heard an announcement about a benefit run for an athlete who had become paralyzed in an accident. Rick said he felt he had to participate in the 5-mile race to show the victim "that life goes on and he could still lead a productive life."