In 2004, John Cena helped grant a child’s request through Make-A-Wish. Accidentally.
Backstage at a WWE event, the not-famous-yet wrestler was pulled into a room to meet with one of the foundation’s families. “I just went in there and talked to them. We had a great conversation,” Cena told TODAY Parents. “Then I left and was like, ‘So what was that?’”
It was a life changing experience for both the child involved and for Cena. Today, Cena is not only the most requested celebrity at Make-A-Wish, but he has also fulfilled 580 wishes. No one else has even surpassed 300.
He says every single wish is as special as his first. “They all stand out. The most important thing is making the experience special because it’s their wish,” explains the 41-year-old, who keeps in touch with the kids and their families. “It’s a spectacular thing… When you give them happiness, they get an escape. You don’t know the power of hope. Hope can equate to time and that’s absolutely priceless.”
He’s right: A recent study showed that “wish kids” had better health outcomes than a control group.
Cena said his connection with kids battling life-threatening illness comes naturally because they all live by the same motto: Never give up. “I really believe perseverance trumps most if you want to achieve a goal. Period,” the actor says. “These kids see me get my butt kicked but never quit. They’ll see me lose but then come out the next day. That resonates. But I’m not bestowing upon them the gift of perseverance. They’re already awesome at that.”
He constantly gains perspective while granting wishes. “I think about when I just get a basic sickness and how grumpy, tired and fatigued I am,” says Cena. “Now, you are looking at a young person … every day is a challenge that I have no idea how they face. I met a young gentleman last night who is just the most positive, driven, upbeat young man. He was telling me, ‘Man, you inspire me!’ and I was like, ‘No, you have it backwards!’”
That determined spirit inspires Cena to never stop making a difference despite of his jam-packed schedule. While co-hosting the TODAY show with Kathie Lee and Hoda, and promoting his new Transformers movie “Bumblebee,” Cena invited 20 Make-A-Wish kids to watch an early screening of the film then help him light New York’s Empire State Building bright yellow.
On the road with WWE — the organization has granted more than 5,000 wishes since the early 1980s — he’s provided with endless opportunities to bring these fighters into the ring with him. “We’re all over the world, so we can make wish experiences at a moment’s notice,” Cena says. “It’s one, among many, reasons why I don’t give up on WWE. WWE and Make-A-Wish are perfect for each other.”
As are Cena and Make-A-Wish. “John inspires our wish kids to keep fighting,” said Shaina Reeser, Make-A-Wish's director of entertainment and sports relations. “Every moment he spends with a wish child, he shows that child that the impossible is possible; that hope is powerful. Wishes can give children the strength to keep fighting — and that strength is what John provides with each wish to meet him he grants.”