WWE star John Cena is well-known for his charitable work, but the sheer number of Make-A-Wishes he’s granted is still staggering, even for those well aware of his philanthropy.
Cena just reached the big 500—the most in Make-A-Wish history—during a recent appearance on “Today,” where he hung out with 8-year-old Rocco Lanzer. Rocco was diagnosed with Leukemia earlier in January. The two had actually already met, but Rocco wasn’t feeling too well on that day, and couldn’t make the most of it. Cena’s biggest (littlest?) fan was hoping for a do-over, so he could get to talk to the wrestler properly.
Rocco’s mother, Maria, explains that her son was always a fan. But it was only after his diagnosis that he adopted Cena’s wrestling catchphrase as his own.
“When he was diagnosed, everybody would tell him you have to be strong and you can never give up. He was like, ‘Wow, mommy, that’s what Jogn Cena says.’ I’m like, ‘See, if a wrestler tells you to never give up, then you can’t give up. You have to fight and be strong.”
It’s no wonder that Cena’s brave little fans are so taken with him. After all, they’re fighters in their own right. As Make-A-Wish CEO David Williams puts it,
"[Cena is] an entertainer, but he's a fighter. Ultimately, these kids are fighting, just fighting a different kind of battle. That's what resonates so much with these kids."
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Suffice to say, Cena was more than happy to oblige Rocco’s request to see him a second time, and he brought a hefty load of gifts with him. Among them were a championship belt and tickets to the upcoming “Monday Night Raw” event, where Rocco can see Cena perform live.
Even though this was their second meeting, Rocco was still star-struck. He stood for a few moments with his mouth hanging open before his mother suggested he give Cena a high-five.
It’s clear that Cena gets as much out of these interactions as the kids do. He’s been working with Make-A-Wish since 2004, and after all this time he’s still thrilled to be able to see the families and “the joy and the hope that we bring.”
Cena is a part of a wider WWE tradition of granting Make-A-Wishes. In total, the organization has granted more than 6,000 wishes from children hoping to meet their idols or attend live shows. But the contact doesn’t end there. Sometimes, when the worst happens and a child passes away, Cena will receive letters from the bereaved yet grateful parents, thanking him for being a bright spark in their children’s short lives.
"Those are always difficult to read. But at the same time, the strength of the parents in sending me a message about how much the time that I spent with their child meant to them, it's very special."
“I just drop everything. If I can offer a fantastic experience, I’ll be the first in line to do my part.”
“I’ll continue to be involved with Make-A-Wish as long as they’ll have me.”