Ricochet was trained with the help of the nonprofit Puppy Prodigies. She was intended to be a service dog, but after she started showing extra interest in chasing random animals, the trainers at Puppy Prodigies knew that she wasn’t cut out for the job. Instead, they harnessed her balance and coordination and taught her to surf.
That was seven years ago. Since then, Ricochet has raised over $100,000 for Puppy Prodigies, and regularly takes individuals with special needs, disabilities, and PTSD out on unique surfing excursions.
Recently, Ricochet got the chance to help out a new group of people: kids with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is a disease that affects the spinal cord’s motor nerve cells, meaning that individuals who have it aren’t able to stand, sit, crawl, walk, swallow food, or even, in many cases, breathe on their own. There are four types of SMA, which are more or less severe depending on when they first manifest themselves. The most common type is Type I, also known as Werdnig–Hoffmann disease. It’s also the most severe, with the usual age of onset between birth and six months.
That doesn’t mean that individuals with SMA can’t still enjoy the water. This summer, Ricochet teamed up with Cure SMA for the Surf Away SMA with Ricochet event, surfing for the first time with kids who couldn’t breathe on their own — kids like 3-year-old Bailey.
Of course, helping the kids enjoy the waves safely was the number one priority of the SMA volunteers at the event. Bailey, for example, has a tracheostomy to help her breathe, and lounged in a bath chair attached to the surfboard in order to keep her safe from aspiration pneumonia. The volunteers kept her in shallow water, and made sure to lift up the surfboard each time a wave came into shore.
Bailey’s sister Riley, who has type II SMA, also got to enjoy a surfing session with Ricochet.
Not everyone had to stick to the shore, though. Five-year-old Logan got to go out further, and wore a pair of goggles to keep the water out of his eyes. Volunteers told us that he kept yelling to go out again and again.
Even Robyn, 23 years old and afflicted with Type II SMA, got to enjoy a ride in the waves, with the aid of her brother, who supported her head as they rode back to shore.
While SMA is, in many cases, a debilitating disease, it doesn’t affect the individual’s mental capacity. They still have hopes and dreams — and fighting spirits, too. And they can still have fun on the beach, and get a kick out of riding the waves with a dog at the pilot position.
Check out the video of Ricochet surfing with Aaron, a 7-year-old with type I SMA.