On March 18, Bill Rodgers, a past winner of both the Boston and New York City Marathons, climbed aboard a cherry picker near the Boston Marathon finish line to position the first of hundreds of marathon street banners. At the ceremony, Rodgers joined John Hancock Insurance Group President Jim Boyle in presenting one of the banners created to honor the inspirational Dick and Rick Hoyt in honor of their marking this year’s race as their 1,000th event.

For over 30 years, Dick Hoyt has pushed or pulled Rick, who is a quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, through the finish lines of 999 athletic events, including 26 Boston Marathons. In addition to their athletic achievements, the Hoyts work tirelessly to educate the public about the challenges disabled people face every day.

The banner day event, which traditionally takes place on or around the first day of spring, unofficially kicks off marathon activities. The Boston Marathon is the oldest annually contested marathon and ranks as one of the most prestigious road racing events in the world. John Hancock Financial is celebrating the 24th year as principal sponsor of the race, which takes place on April 20, 2009.

“It’s always an honor to raise the John Hancock banners,” Bill Rodgers said. “When people see the banners in March, there is a buzz that moves through the city since everyone knows the Marathon is right around the corner.”

John Hancock provides hundreds of banners, which will be hung throughout the city in the coming days to celebrate the race and the achievements of the athletes. The colorfully designed banners will add a welcomed sign of spring to the streets of Boston.

“This is always an exciting time of year,” said Jim Boyle, President, John Hancock Insurance Group. “I’m very pleased to be here with Bill and honor the Hoyts for spreading their message of determination and motivation to others over 30 years.”