Ricochet the champion dog surfer hit the waves Wednesday in La Jolla to fulfill the dreams of two Denver sisters with a terminal illness.
But the undercurrent of courage, generosity and connections played an important role in turning wishes into an exciting adventure.
“I thought it probably wasn’t going to happen and then it did,” said Savannah Arterburn, 17, before her outing at La Jolla Shores. “I’m just really excited and ready for anything.”
Emerging from the waves, Savannah said, “That was so cool. It was actually very exciting. It got my heart going. She’s so amazing. I think (Ricochet) helped a lot.”
Bellamy, 19, was equally thrilled: “It was awesome. I just felt so good and felt free. It challenged me a little, but Ricochet helped a lot.”
The dog tale began 30 years ago, when the girls’ father, Donovan Arterburn III, and Ricochet’s surf handler, Dave King, went to high school together.
The father spotted Ricochet’s surfing feats on Facebook, and the first connection with King began. The two sisters from Denver both said they have always wanted to surf and were excited about the possible adventure.
“It would be a dream come true to surf with her,” Savannah said. “It would be amazing.”
The pair, along with a third sister, Skylar, have Friedreich’s ataxia, a progressive degenerative neuromuscular disorder with no treatment or cure.
In the past few years, they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, began losing the ability to move, survived several spine surgeries and learned to live with a failing heart.
Judy Fridono of San Diego, Ricochet’s owner, heard about the linkup of classmates after three decades and said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
This connection and the power of the Internet led to generosity as Ricochet’s owner held a fundraiser “Surf for Sisters Sake.”
Two of Ricochet’s 247,000 Facebook fans, Scott and Sharon Brandstadt, donated 100,000 Southwest Airline miles so the sisters and their father could fly to San Diego. Ricochet surfs with special-needs youth, the disabled and wounded warriors, and takes part in fundraisers. Her videos have gone viral on the Internet.
Meanwhile, Hotel Indigo Del Mar got on board and donated a room, and Ricochet’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram fans sent in cash donations to cover attractions and dining.
The trip was funded within 24 hours.
And then there was the connection with Ricochet.
Ricochet is like a magnet, Fridono said, “Everyone comes up to pet her.”
“People come up and there’s a heart to heart connection. There’s an interaction on a very deep level. It’s on a level that humans can’t put into words.”
The girls had a sense about Richochet from watching her on the Internet.
“There’s something about her,” Bellamy said. “I could see on the Internet that she is lovable. But you really can’t connect until you meet her.”
Fridono called Richochet “a very special gift, and I want to share that gift. There’s a purity and essence of energy. I’m glad that we could give them the experience.”
Then the courage came in.
Donovan Arterburn, who lost his wife to breast cancer, said, “As a parent, initially I was concerned,” he said after Savannah wiped out while surfing.
“I asked her if she wanted to rest, and she said, ‘No, I want to go again,’” he said. “That’s Savannah. She wants to do anything she can, to enjoy life.”
Savannah said of the experience: “I was afraid to fall, but when I was falling, that was the funnest part. I wish I cold do this all of the time.”
The girl’s father said, “It’s one more thing to make them appreciate life. They never get down, they never complain. They realize that there are good people out there who want to help them fulfill their dreams.”
And Arterburn admits it’s his attitude and encouragement that keeps the girls up. He urges them to “be all that they can be and pursue their dreams” in the time they have left. (It helps that the National Sports Center for the Disabled is based in Colorado.)
“I know when we get back, it will be: What do we do next, Daddy?”
Bellamy already has an idea.
“Skydiving,” she quickly answered. “I like adventure.”