AIKEN—Ernesto Barquet-Arrambide is bicycling thousands of miles this summer to help spread a message of God’s love and hope.
The Aiken resident and rising sophomore at Wofford College is taking part in the “Journey of Hope,” riding his bike from Long Beach, Calif., to Washington, D.C., to raise funds for people with disabilities and special needs.
The ride started June 17 and spans 3,555 miles. Participants are raising money for Ability Experience, a non-profit organization that serves people with a wide variety of special needs.
Barquet-Arrambide is taking part because, he said, for nearly two years he experienced what it was like to be disabled.
In 2011, he was injured while playing football as a freshman at Aiken High School. The injury at first seemed like a simple sprain but within days he was experiencing terrible burning pain in his left foot and leg.
Barquet-Arrambide was eventually diagnosed with a condition known as complex reflex pain syndrome or reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a nerve disorder that is usually incurable and causes debilitating nerve pain.
Doctors told him he would likely never walk again and would need a wheelchair.
Initially, he fell into despair, but then decided he would prove the doctors wrong. Eventually he was able to walk with the help of a cane. He and his family traveled to Greenville and California for various treatments including injections and neurofeedback. He focused on schoolwork and hobbies such as music and tried to live as fully as possible.
Then in October 2013, he and his family attended a Mass at their parish, St. Mary Help of Christians, celebrated by Father Ubald Rugirangoga, a priest from Rwanda who travels the world preaching a message of healing and forgiveness.
During the Mass, Father Ubald prayed for people in the audience to be healed in the name of Jesus Christ.
Ernesto’s father, Ernesto Barquet- Gonzalez, said at the end, the priest asked people who felt they had experienced a healing during the Mass to come forward and give a testimony, and specifically referred to “a boy with a lot of pain in his left leg.”
“At that point I was in tears because I knew it was my son he was referring to,” he said. “I saw Ernesto walk to the front — without his cane — and say that he had no more pain. It was unbelievable to hear him say that after two years. From that moment he was walking, running, jumping, doing everything a normal person does. It was like he had awakened from a nightmare. Ernesto now knows he is a living testimony of God’s love and power.”
Since that Mass, Barquet-Arrambide has been able to do any activity he has tried without pain, and when he heard about the “Journey of Hope” last year, he immediately decided he wanted to do it. Mr. Barquet-Gonzalez said he started training in December.
Friends, fellow parishioners and members of the community helped him raise money for the effort and one person donated the bike he is riding.
Mr. Barquet-Gonzalez said he was initially hesitant about whether his son should attempt the ride, but he knew he was committed to the effort.
“I saw the passion in him,” he said. “This was something he felt he had to do and I knew he would be able to because Ernesto has always kept the faith and been very optimistic. He is doing exactly what he wants to do and I’m very proud of him.”
The riders’ days are long and challenging. They wake up around 5 a.m., eat breakfast, then hit the road in groups of three. They usually ride about 70 or 80 miles a day, but have ridden as much as 110 miles in one day. When they arrive at their destination, they participate in “friendship visits” with local groups who serve people with special needs.
“We’ve played games of wheelchair basketball, gone bowling with Special Olympics athletes, attended water parks with them — every day has been an awesome experience,” Barquet-Arrambide said.
Raising money and awareness for people with special needs is the major goal of his long ride, but he also hopes to stoke the fires of hope and faith in people who may feel they can’t go on in life.
“At one point, I had lost hope of life beyond using a wheelchair and cane, and God gave me hope,” Barquet- Arrambide said. “My goal this summer is that if I meet even one person on this journey who has lost hope, I want to help them regain hope and try again. I want to show people that anything is possible with God.”
The family has created a public Facebook page so people can follow his progress across the country and view photos of the ride. Visit the Facebook page here.
Top photo provided: Cyclists taking part in the Journey of Hope ride through Arizona on July 1.