In July 2008 life changed in an instant for little Ian McFarland. He was in a devastating car accident that claimed the life of his parents, and in the end, left him with a life-altering brain injury.
He spent months in the hospital. When he was finally discharged, he was in a wheelchair, and struggling to speak. But thanks to the help of a spunky Golden Retriever named Ricochet, Ian, now 6, has made incredible progress.
“Ricochet is my good buddy and my good friend,” Ian told producers of the documentary, Going the Distance: Journeys of Recovery. “Surfing with Ricochet is fun and it’s exciting.”
That’s right – Ian surfs with Ricochet.
Ian used to love riding the waves with his dad, but the thrill of getting into the water soon turned into a real fear for him after the car crash.
“Since the accident, he hasn't ever been that excited to get on the board,” Ian’s aunt, Melissa Coleman, said in a news release. “I am so grateful to Ricochet for making that happen.”
The night before their first surf session off the coast of California, Ian was “super” excited, Coleman said.
“The next morning, Ian woke up boldly demanding, ‘I want to surf.’ Any fears that he had were replaced with excitement,” she said. “I seriously cried as he boomed toward the water.”
And since that day, Ian and Ricochet have formed an unbreakable bond. Not only do they surf together, Ricochet also helps raise money for Ian’s physical and emotional therapy through various fundraising events.
This past July, Ian was presented with a check for $7,500 to help pay for his therapy.
“The surf session with Ian and Ricochet can only be described as a milestone event,” Max Moore, a friend of Ian’s, said in the documentary. “There were just some amazing things that happened. Not only did Ian self direct, and want to get into the water without anybody even encouraging him what-so-ever, he was just happy to do it with Ricochet out there. Ian was stoked – you could see it in his face – it was a real surf session. He wanted to go out and catch more waves."
As a pup, Ricochet’s guardian, Judy Fridono, had big plans for her. She was enrolled in Fridono's program called Puppy Prodigies and was being groomed to be a service dog.
But those big plans took an unexpected turn when Fridono realized Ricochet loved to chase birds and other critters.
“We couldn’t take the risk that she would want to run away while she was with a disabled person,” Fridono told FoxNews.com. “It was our responsibility to release her from the program.”
At the time, Fridono was devastated, until she realized Ricochet had a very unique gift of her own.
“Part of the Puppy Prodigies program is coordination and she showed really good balance,” Fridono said. “We entered her in a surf dog competition last June and she came in third place. When I realized she could surf, I said to myself, ‘OK, well maybe we could do something meaningful with her surfing.’”
And that’s exactly what Fridono has been doing. A month after that contest, Ricochet, who Fridono affectionately calls a SURFice dog, started surfing with Patrick Ivison – who has been a quadriplegic since the age of 14 months when he was hit by a car.
“Ricochet jumped on Patrick’s board and we were like ‘OK, she wants to surf with him,’” Fridono said. “Ever since then, she’s been tandem surfing with Patrick and others.”
Since Ricochet began surfing, she has raised more than $50,000 for different causes, which have benefited both people and animals.
In September, Ricochet was honored with the 2010 American Kennel Club Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence in the category of Exemplary Companion Dog. The national honor, which will formally be presented in December, is only given to five dogs each year.
“She’s turned into something more incredible than I’ve ever imagined,” Fridono said with emotion. “She’s my dog, but she belongs to the world, and I’m just here to help her do whatever she needs to do to help the world.”