Any given school day at 11:30 a.m., the doors of Moody Coliseum swing open as thousands of students flood into the lawns of ACU. Jonathan Ardoyno, junior education major from Abilene, is typically among them, rolling through the doors in a wheelchair with a “Run Forrest Run” license plate fastened to the back.
Though not technically enrolled, Ardoyno is as much of a student as everyone else exiting Moody. He goes to class, attends Chapel, chats with friends, cheers at ACU football games and, if you ask, he will proudly show you his student ID. What makes Ardoyno’s experience different, however, is that he does it all on wheels.
Ardoyno was born two months premature. His family was given the devastating diagnosis that he would be blind and unable to move or speak as a result of cerebral palsy, a condition common in premature babies as a result of brain damage.
“But we are a praying family and God really answered our prayers,” said Jonathan’s mother, Janet Ardoyno. “Jonathan’s vision started returning when he was about three and he was able to start talking. We never dreamed he would be at the point he is today, and the doctors said there was no way.”
Janet said Ardoyno strives to be as normal as possible and, even though he may not be able to walk, in his mind he is not a handicapped person.
Ardoyno is heavily involved in all types of volunteer work. He and his mother have spoken at schools all around Abilene about interacting with people who are handicapped. He has also raised over $20,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters in the past five years by making phone calls. Ardoyno works at HEB and has worked as a DJ at a radio station for 12 years.
“I know that some people think that it must be hard, but I don’t know what our life would have been like without Jonathan, probably a lot more boring,” Janet said. “If nothing else, he is a bold example of answered prayer. If you have doubts and if you question your faith, look at Jonathan and what he’s accomplished.”
Since Ardoyno was young, ACU students have been an important part of his life. When he was six, the sophomore class of ACU raised money to send him and his family to Disney World. He now has his own group of ACU students that support him, whether at school or at home. He calls these students his “On-Campus Angels” and “Kings”.
“He loves the fact that people are willing to engage him and accept him for who he is,” Janet said. “And that says a lot to me about ACU and the type of students that go there.”
Jim Davis, senior family studies major from Ft. Worth, serves as one of Ardoyno’s caretakers.
“Working with Jonathan has made me appreciate little things a lot more,” Davis said. “Try brushing your teeth without using your hands, you can’t do it.”
Davis said, outside of having physical limitations, Ardoyno also struggles sometimes with communicating his thoughts. He said Ardoyno always has a lot of great things to say but has a hard time voicing them.
“One day I asked him, ‘If you didn’t have cerebral palsy, what would you do?’ and he said he would tie his own shoes,” Davis said. “You’d think someone would naturally say go running or something like that but he said he just wanted to tie his own shoes. It makes you appreciate the little things.”
Ally Bristow, junior elementary education major from Arlington, first met Ardoyno in Hart Auditorium in Mike Cope’s Acts-Revelation class and is one of his “On-Campus Angels”.
“It’s been a journey and a process getting to know Jonathan,” Bristow said. “And through it I’ve realized how impatient and selfish I am. He’s very thoughtful and he values friendships so much and shows unconditional love. He’s just a very powerful influence on my life.”
Bristow said her friendship with Ardoyno inspired her to pursue special education as a career.
“It’s been a definite blessing from God,” Bristow said. “Because it’s taught me a lot of areas of weakness and it’s given me my major and what I want to do.”
Kevin Johnson, senior psychology major from Midland, is one of Ardoyno’s caregivers, or “Kings” and said he has learned a lot from working with Ardoyno.
“With Jonathan it is so hard to tell that anything is wrong with him,” Johnson said. “He’s so intelligent that you forget he has a condition.”
Johnson said Ardoyno sends a group text message out to all of the people he cares about every night to tell them how much they mean to him and is always checking up on people to make sure they are doing well.
“His greatest strengths are his faith and his love. He teaches us that every day is a blessing,” Johnson said. “He’s fun and intelligent and a ladies magnet. But all and all he’s a good friend.”
Ardoyno said college is not easy for people in wheelchairs. However, he has a lot of support from his friends, caretakers, the education department and various other individuals across campus.
“My greatest challenge is getting around the bumps. I got stuck one day and someone had to push me off. It was not a pretty sight,” Ardoyno said. “But people help a lot, especially the on-campus angels. If these people weren’t here, I wouldn’t be here.”
Pyper Larrick, sophomore nursing major from Ft. Worth, said Ardoyno is a hilarious guy who is great at encouraging and worth getting to know.
“I think that, because he’s in a wheelchair, people assume that he’s one to talk down to,” said Larrick,. “When actually he’s almost 30 years old and knows more than we do about life and things like that.”
Larrick said she has learned the value of getting to know the people that surround her in her life.
“A lot of people, throughout the day, have the mindset of just getting done what they need to do for themselves,” Larrick said. “But it’s worth it to just stop and spend time during the day to build some kind of relationship.”
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