Two young sisters living with the same terminal illness saw their dream come true Wednesday when they went surfing with a famous dog in San Diego.
Savannah and Bellamy Arterburn, of Denver, Colo., hit the waves at La Jolla Shores with Surf Dog Ricochet, a San Diego-based Golden Retriever known for her surfing skills. Ricochet is also a therapy dog, and often surfs with kids with special needs, people with disabilities, wounded warriors and U.S. veterans with PTSD.
Savannah, 17, and Bellamy, 19, both suffer from Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), a rare, inherited disease that causes damage to the nervous system and movement problems.
Over the last few years, the sisters’ illness has progressed and they have started losing their ability to move as they battle the degenerative neuro-muscular disorder. They have survived several spine surgeries, as well as losing their mother to breast cancer.
The sisters recently came across Ricochet the surfing dog on Facebook and set their sights on someday surfing with her. But, with financial hardships stemming from ongoing medical treatment, there was no way for the siblings to afford a trip to San Diego.
Ricochet’s owner, Judy Fridono, heard about the teens’ dream and set up a fundraiser to get the sisters to Ricochet.
Ricochet’s Facebook fans, Scott and Sharon Brandstadt donated airline miles so the sisters and their father could fly to San Diego. Hotel Indigo Del Mar then got on board and donated hotel accommodations for the family. Ricochet’s fans on social media made donations to cover food, attractions and activities for the family, too.
Fridono said the entire trip was fully-funded within 24 hours.
Fridono told NBC 7 she was thrilled to give Savannah and Bellamy an opportunity to get in the water with Ricochet, as it is what her “surf-ice” dog does best.
“Ricochet is a dog that has a special gift. She has these healing qualities and she bonds with people instantly,” said Fridono. “To me, it’s a gift to be given. I just want to be able to share her with whoever needs her.”
Fridono said Ricochet has been surfing with those who need her most for the past six years. The pooch’s first surf pal was a boy in 2009 who was quadriplegic.
When Ricochet gets in the water with someone, a friendship is quickly formed, Fridono said.
“They make a heart-to-heart connection, a soul-to-soul connection. It’s very powerful,” she added.
For Bellamy, the connection with Ricochet was deep and heartfelt.
“There’s something special about her,” said Bellamy. “She’s super sweet and smart, and the best ever.”
Savannah said she was in complete awe of the opportunity to surf with the pooch.
“I’m so excited. It’s just mind-blowing!” said Savannah, minutes before heading into the water.
Surrounded by a team of many helpers, both Savannah and Bellamy were moved from their wheelchairs onto a surfboard, each taking their own turn in the water with Ricochet by their sides.
The teens smiled from ear to ear as the dog stayed close to them.
After the surfing session, the teens played in the sand with Ricochet, enjoying the special day.
“Even though I’m sick and dying, I don’t let it stop me from living my life,” said Bellamy.