Jose Martinez served in the US Army for three years before he was badly injured in Afghanistan. He stepped on a bomb and woke up from a coma ten days later.
Martinez was given next to no chance of survival, but he is alive today. Recovery was a long and heartbreaking process as the veteran began to understand the limitations of life as a triple amputee hip disarticulate.
Martinez was in the hospital for two years. Doctors told him he would never walk again.
“After jumping out of my coma I was told the wheelchair was going to be my new set of legs!” He said. “I cried for about a year thinking about it! I was told I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things I used to do, and would be limited to things I can do now. I told my self I would never let anyone tell me what’s possible and what’s impossible.”
Today, with the help of his team and sponsorship of a dog named Ricochet, he surfs.
“[Ricochet] became the first ever canine-assisted surf therapy and adaptive surfing dog in 2009 when she made a decision to jump on the surfboard of a 14 year old adaptive surfer,” said guardian Judy Fridono. “Since then, she’s assisted hundreds and hundreds of kids with special needs, people with disabilities and wounded warriors. She balances boards… and lives!
“She’s also a certified goal directed therapy dog that has been providing paws-on healing to service members and veterans with PTSD for the last eight years,” Fridono adds. “She makes immediate soul-to-soul connections, assumes responsibility for their well-being and alerts/responds to anxiety, pain, emotions and triggers. The connection she makes with people defies present day scientific understanding!”
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Martinez surfs in adaptive surfing competitions, and he surfs well. With Ricochet as his sponsor, Martinez has won several medals in a number of contests including Stoke For Life’s US Open of Adaptive Surfing.
The veteran has dreams of joining Team USA Adaptive Surfing Team in the 2028 paralympics, but he also hasn’t limited himself to one sport. Martinez enjoys swimming, rock climbing, and other active sports.
He’s turned the lessons he’s learned in life into motivational speeches.
“The only way to win the battle on earth is to first defeat the battlefield inside ourselves,” Martinez says.
Surf Dog Ricochet also works with retired Marine staff sergeant Persons B. Griffith IV, “Griff,” who brought the scars of PTSD home from two tours in Afghanistan. Griff underwent several types of therapy, but couldn’t find relief from his PTSD until he found Ricochet through the Naval Medical Center San Diego and Pawsitive Teams canine therapy dog program.
“Ricochet is like a mirror for me, it’s like she reaches in with both her paws, grabs what’s really going on inside of me, pulls it out, and the forces me to deal with it,” Griff said. “The last time I worked with her she alerted me to one of my triggers, a mall security guard, by leading me away from the area he was in. She took it a step further by guiding me behind a bench, where we were able to ‘take cover’ like I did when we took fire on the battlefield”
Several dozen feet before the encounter, Ricochet could sense the trigger, and held firm to her ground in order to prevent Griff from getting any closer.
“This is the behavior that people think is a dog being stubborn,” Fridono said. “To other people, it looks like she’s misbehaving.”
In reality, Ricochet is putting herself in the way of her handler and a potential problem.
In a safe place, Griff makes eye contact with Ricochet and pets her until he calms down, and the anxiety subsides.
“People might think she’s looking for attention, but she’s leaning into me and I can feel her pressure,” Griff said. “She’s leaning into me to help me calm down and destress.”
Griff and Ricochet work together as a means of combating PTSD, not just in one veteran, but in the many others they meet. Griff has made it a personal mission to reduce veteran suicide and eliminate the stigmatization of PTSD by advocating for the healing power of dogs.
“She definitely helped me get to that part of myself that I thought I had completely lost,” Griff says. “Spending time with her, she opened my eyes to that. She went inside of me and took that part of me out and said, ‘Hey look, pay attention to this.'”
“She sees beneath the surface, everything that’s going on and how you really feel, what you’re really experiencing, and she helps you connect with yourself,” he continued. “When you’re with her, she can see it, even though you can’t.”
According to Fridono, “Griff is also involved in Ricochet’s Waves of Empowerment Program which pairs veterans and kids with special needs for a day of canine-assisted playing, swimming, surfing and therapy… taking them from the battleground to the playground! This program enables veterans to find new purpose by engaging in community service while mentoring and inspiring future generations.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.