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“Changing Lives One Chair at a Time”

  • January 12, 2015

“Changing lives one chair at a time.” This is the slogan that inspires Team Hoyt Running Chairs every day. Team Hoyt Running Chairs is a company that produces specially designed custom running chairs for its customers. Team Hoyt Running Chairs is a partnership between Rick and Dick Hoyt and Southbridge Tool and Manufacturing. Southbridge Tool and Manufacturing is a precision machine shop, and a welding and sheet metal fabrication shop based in Massachusetts. It was started in 1984 by Angelo and Peter DiDonato and does both commercial and government work. To give an explanation of how Team Hoyt Running Chairs got started, how the product works and its impact on its customers I interviewed Michael DiDonato, who works in the sales department at Southbridge Tool and Manufacturing and was the catalyst in starting the partnership with Rick and Dick Hoyt.

Michael said, “It all started a few years ago when I attended a sales and marketing seminar. The second image of the PowerPoint presentation was that of Rick and Dick Hoyt. The speaker gave us a little background on who they are and their accomplishments. The father, Dick has pushed his son Rick in over 1,100 race events including 32 Boston Marathons (their last one as a duo was this year) and 6 full Ironman events including Ironman Hawaii.” To give some more insight if you are unaware of the Hoyts story, the reason Dick pushes Rick in these races is because Rick was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth and it was recommended that he should be institutionalized. Dick and his wife, Judy, treated Rick just like any child, teaching him the alphabet and basic words and with the help of an interactive computer, Rick was able to show everyone his intelligence.

In 1977, Rick told his father he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a lacrosse player that had been paralyzed from an accident. Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair, and when they finished, Rick told his dad, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” This statement is what began Rick and Dick’s inspirational story.

Michael continued, “A couple months later, my family and I were walking into the grocery store.  Just as we were entering, Dick Hoyt was leaving. He said hello to my wife and I, and gave a big smile to my daughter who was just a year old.  I frantically told my wife, “That’s the guy from the seminar I was just at!  You know the one that does the races with his son!  I want to say something to him but I don’t want to bother him, he must have people approaching him all the time. What should I do Jenn?”

She replied, “Well, whatever you do, you better do it quick because he’s getting in his van.”  So, I ran out to the parking lot with emotion swelling up inside me and a lump in my throat.  I was quickly trying to come up with something to say and not sound foolish. Normally I would leave my business cards in the console of my car, but for some reason I felt the need to bring a couple with me into the grocery store.

“Just as Dick had one foot in his van I yelled to him, reached into my pocket and said, “Mr. Hoyt! I’ve seen the races that you do with your son, and I just want you to have my business card.  My family owns a manufacturing company and we can fix most anything. So if something breaks on your running chair or bike, bring it to us, and we’ll fix it for you.”” It wasn’t until February 2010 when Dick visited Michael at Southbridge and asked him to build a new running chair for the duo. Dick explained that Rick had recently had surgery on his spine, and their current chair was uncomfortable and painful for him. Michael agreed to build the chair for the Hoyts and to have it done a couple weeks before the Boston Marathon which is April 19th. Michael stated that, “Although it was difficult we came through for Team Hoyt and with Dick and Rick’s vast race experience and Southbridge Tool’s many years of design and manufacturing expertise, we joined forces and started Team Hoyt Running Chairs.”

Michael then explained to me how Team Hoyt Running Chairs work and their significance to its customers. He explained that there are two positions: the angel, who is the pusher, and the captain who is the person in the chair. The thing that makes Team Hoyts Running Chair stand apart is that every chair is customizable to the “captain” it is serving. Some features include thick, high-density memory foam seats for the captain’s comfort, as well as adjustable handle bars for the angels comfort. The chair that Team Hoyt Running Chairs has designed has proven itself for five Boston Marathons and countless other races that Rick and Dick Hoyt and many other Team Hoyt members have run around the world. Michael said, “Our running chairs are allowing people who are physically challenged to experience the thrill of the race.” It is spreading the exact same feeling that Rick Hoyt had after his first race in 1977.

Working with such a noble and inspirational cause I knew that Michael had to have some favorite moments of his job, and he absolutely did. He said, “My favorite moments being involved with Team Hoyt are seeing the reactions of the person receiving the chair alongside their friends and family. I also send them videos of the progression of their custom-built chair. The communication I keep with them during the building process is key, because we are not only creating a chair for them; we are building a relationship and creating a big event with a lot of anticipation and excitement. Also, I receive a lot of pictures and videos through social media of them (our customers) crossing the finish line with HUGE smiles on their faces.”

Lastly, I asked Michael how Team Hoyt Running Chairs uses Monroe Engineering’s quick-release pins and why he chose Monroe Engineering. Michael stated, “We use Monroe’s quick-release pins in our axles. We will not use any pin other than Monroe’s. We chose Monroe Engineering not just because of the superior quality of their products, but the sales department took the time with us to help determine which products would be best for OUR specific needs. The Team Hoyt brand is expected to perform at the highest levels and I can sleep soundly knowing our Monroe quick release pins are extremely durable and reliable.”

If you have any additional questions or are seeking additional information on Team Hoyt, Michael’s contact information is listed below as well as their Facebook and Twitter so you can keep up to date on what they are doing.

Michael DiDonato

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