Jason Iloreta: His Brother’s Keeper

1/5/2017

By Megan Carroll

Class of 2018

Upon graduating from Gonzaga in 2014, Jason Iloreta wanted to serve others and nearly joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Instead, Iloreta heeded a more personal calling to return home to Kauai, Hawaii, to serve his brother Josh who has been in a wheelchair his entire life after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth.

In the two and a half years since earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology, Jason has not only been there for his brother but has run half-marathons with him. In the process, the Iloreta brothers have worked to raise awareness of people living with diagnosed “differences” through their blog and the “I Am My Ability, Not My Disability” campaign.

Jason has run half-marathons with Josh, and together they are raising awareness of people living with diagnosed “differences.” (Photo courtesy Iloreta brothers)

Jason has run half-marathons with Josh, and together they are raising awareness of people living with diagnosed “differences.” (Photo courtesy Iloreta brothers)

Jason, 24, and Josh, 26, have always been much like other siblings – engaging in mischief, teasing and playing pranks on each other. One time, in high school, Jason searched everywhere for his favorite shirt but couldn’t find it. Turns out Josh had borrowed it without asking – and had it on under another shirt.

“People think he’s so innocent because he’s in a chair,” Jason said, laughing.

The permanent condition disrupts Josh’s ability to control his movements and posture, and it restricts his speech. As a result, Josh types words into a computer that converts them to voice.

Cognitively, Josh is as sharp as Jason and notes he is “able to do all things.”

On their blog – titled “Keeping up with the Iloreta Bros.” – the brothers explain they hope to support others like them.

By living and documenting our lives, in an honest and vulnerable way, we pray others can connect their narratives with ours and feel a sense comfort knowing they’re not alone,” their blog notes. “So if you’re living with a diagnosis, a caretaker of such person, or simply another human being wanting to learn more about different people, I invite you into our lives as the Iloreta Bros.”

The brothers live with parents Jimmy and Emma. While resources for cerebral palsy patients weren’t always readily available, support from their family, including two older sisters, and community has been abundant. With both parents working, a personal care assistant helps Josh at home four days a week.

Jason has essentially structured his life around care for his brother.

“It can be a strenuous thing emotionally, mentally and physically,” said Jason, who works two part-time jobs at the nonprofit organizations Leadership Kaua’i and Children to Career, where he coordinates leadership and career development courses for youth.

The brothers were inspired to participate in running events and half-marathons after watching others pursue similar dreams. While at Gonzaga, Jason saw a video of Dick Hoyt pushing his wheelchair-bound son Rick to the finish line of a race.

“After watching that, I felt a sense of responsibility to go back home and help Josh because he hadn’t been doing so well since I’d been away,” said Jason who also served in Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation, which pairs GU students with challenged adults.

“I’ve always been the type of person who’s wanted to help out and do things, so that’s why I naturally felt at home at Gonzaga,” Jason said. “I am still trying to help people.”

The Iloreta brothers also participate in Able Ministries, a program through their church that pairs people with mentors for fun, worship, and fellowship. In addition, the brothers surf, paddle board and swim with those who are physically limited through Kauai Ocean Recreation Experience, founded by Gonzaga alumnus Kurt Leong.