Ralph Frederick Briones '92

Ralph Frederick Briones '92 Headshot

Ralph Frederick Briones, Class of 1992, has never been one to back down from a challenge. When he was a freshman, the varsity tennis coach placed Briones on the team’s number two spot – meaning the 14-year old Briones was matched up against WCAL talents bound for college level tennis.

Briones was outmatched, but he always put up a hell of a fight.

“I was annoying, and I frustrated the hell out of him,” Briones said, recalling one particular match against a St. Francis tennis player who ended up playing collegiately for the University of San Francisco.

That fight inside of Briones to give it his all no matter the obstacle prepared him later to face the greatest challenge of his life: Kennedy’s Disease - a degenerative neuromuscular disorder which causes muscle weakness and pain throughout the body. The disease has no cure or treatment.

“It was depressing,” Briones said when he got the diagnosis in 2015. “I had so much that I haven't done yet that I still wanted to do, and to hear: ‘rare disease,’ ‘no cure,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘wheelchair bound’ –  It was really tough to swallow.”

As dejected as Briones felt after the diagnoses, he didn’t want the disease to be the end of his story. As a Crusader, Briones said his values of Pride, Purpose, and Performance didn’t allow him to let new unforeseen physical challenges define him.

So he didn’t.

“I don't want to just sit here. Let me share my story. Let me be an advocate. Let me just do something,” Briones said “I really felt like ‘I got to do something.’”

Ralph Briones '92

So Briones put out a video on Facebook sharing his story, living with the disease, and resources available to other patients. Briones said he wanted to show the world that living with a rare disease was nothing to be ashamed of.

“The response was overwhelming,” Briones said. “You can imagine that feeling of, ‘Wow, I just made an impact.’”

Briones also organizes an annual rare disease day in the Bay Area, where performers and attendees come to raise money and awareness for rare disease research. Over the past four years, Briones said they’ve raised over $85,000.

“I didn't realize that from that point, I was going to be in this rare disease advocacy for the rest of my life,” he said.

The next Rare Disease Day in the Bay Area will be in San Jose on Feb. 26. The free event will feature over 25 DJs from around the globe, performances, short films, rare disease guest speakers, live cooking demos, assistive yoga, physical therapy exercises and live auction.

Briones’ faith in Christ is a big part of his journey as well. He feels like God was calling him to be a source of hope and inspiration for rare disease patients feeling hopelessness and despair.

Despite the physical and emotional toll that Kennedy’s Disease has put him through, Briones is not afraid to be an advocate for others with the disease. 

“I identify myself as someone with Kennedy's disease, and I say the word ‘disease’ because to a lot of people, there's a stigma when you say ‘disease,’” Briones said. “And for me, I think it's important for a patient like myself that’s living with a rare disease to accept that.”

One of Briones’ major takeaways from his time at Riordan was taking pride in being a Crusader. Decades after he graduated, Briones said he still loves visiting campus, keeping up with the community and watching Riordan sports.

“If I'm at home watching a live stream (of a Riordan sports game), and they win, lose or whatever, I'm singing the alma mater,” he said.

Briones specifically mentioned Mr. Mcklusy, Mr. Borges, Mr. Imperial, Mr. Isola, Mr. Swan, Mr. Parodi, Mr. Oross, Ms. Valverde, and Mr. Rosa as teachers who inspired him.

“Give it your all. You give 100 percent, it’s going to be worth it. And I think that everything I do, I give my all. I learned that from Riordan.”

Briones was also a teacher and junior varsity coach of the tennis team for Riordan from 2000-2004, when Briones said he made some of his favorite memories at the school. He said that he hoped he could pass on all the lessons and values that he learned from Riordan onto the next generation.

“I wanted people to see if they looked at the things that I've done, they’d go, ‘man, that was solid. That was who Ralph was,’” he said. “If I gave someone advice, and they go and say, ‘Mr. B. gave me this advice’” that I lived by what I said too.”