Kids with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Go Surfing with Therapy Dog Ricochet

Posted by Amber King
surf dog
Photos courtesy of Judy Fridono

Surf Dog Ricochet is already known for the incredible surf therapy she does with veterans and disabled children, but she's not done breaking barriers.

Ever since a Golden Retriever named Ricochet first jumped on a surfboard, she's been helping people do the unexpected. Her unique form of therapy builds confidence while giving people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She joins them in the water to provide both physical stability and moral support, and her most recent event was a special surf session for a group of courageous children.

Surf Dog Ricochet surfing with child with special needs

Neil, Aubrey, Riley, Bailey, and the other children involved in the Surf Away SMA event all have spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). When they were born, their parents heard the worst possible words, "No treatment, no cure." SMA is a disease that affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord. It robs children of the ability to walk, crawl, sit, lift their heads, and even breath on their own.

It's the number one genetic cause of death for infants, but it didn't stop a group of kids from having a great time out on the water with their favorite surfing dog.

In an effort to show children with SMA how fun and exciting life can be, Ricochet and her team of human volunteers came together to organize a special event. Children with SMA live their lives with a number of disabilities, but nothing stopped them from getting in the water with Ricochet.

Most of the young surfers couldn't hold themselves up or lift their heads, so adaptive surfboards were used to keep them safe. A few of the children also needed breathing assistance from permanent ventilators, but even that didn't slow them down.

Surf Dog Ricochet surfing with child with special needs

Neil has a tracheostomy, a surgical opening into his trachea that helps him breath with a ventilator. His father ran alongside his board while the little boy surfed in the shallows with Ricochet leading the way.

It was extremely important that no water got into the ventilator, and Ricochet's team solved this problem by lifting the surfboard with Neil and Ricochet still on it after every ride. Safety was a top priority, and with cooperation from a number of volunteers and experienced surf coaches, each child earned a special experience.

Surf Dog Ricochet surfing with child with special needs

Two sisters who both suffer with SMA, Riley and Bailey Sommerville, exceeded their doctors' expectations with how much joy they could experience. Their mother, Joanna Sommerville, was told her daughters would only grow weaker as their bodies shut down. She never dreamed she would see them surfing in the ocean with a therapy dog, but it was her goal to help her daughters experience life to the fullest. She said;

"When someone at first says your child can't do something, and then they do it, its just awesome... I don't really think I can put the feeling into words.

Riley and Bailey also joined 15-month-old General. General is the youngest child Ricochet has ever surfed with, and everyone came together to make the experience unforgettable. Other children with less severe disabilities surfed without the adaptive board but with two skilled surfers--one human and one canine.

Surf Dog Ricochet surfing with child

The children and their families were celebrating a breakthrough drug called Spinraza that has been recently approved to treat the terminal disease, and Ricochet was grateful to be a part of it. She's helping to spread awareness about SMA in hopes of giving her new surfing friends a brighter future.

What do you think of Ricochet's efforts? Let us know in the comments below.

Photos courtesy of Judy Fridono


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Kids with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Go Surfing with Therapy Dog Ricochet