He wasn't a superhero; he just dressed like one. But an opportunity to be an angel arose.
Dec 5, 2013
Every kid dreams about growing up to be a superhero, but not many expect that dream to come true. My twin brother, Travis, couldn’t believe it when I told him mine had. “What do you mean you’re going to be Captain America for real?” he asked.
Superheroes had been important to me since I was a little kid. Travis and I really needed heroes back then. We had a difficult childhood, bouncing around from one tough situation to another. When we didn’t think things could get any worse, they did.
The one thing Travis and I could rely on was our comic books. When you’re a small boy, and afraid, it’s a great comfort to imagine you’re big and strong, rescuing other children from danger.
One night, when we were about eight, Travis and I huddled together in bed wondering if we’d always be surrounded by people stronger than us. “We’ll find a way out of this mess,” I whispered to him. “Someday we’ll overcome, like all of our heroes. You’ll see!”
With each other—and God—to lean on, that’s exactly what we did. Travis worked for the would-be governor of Washington State. I’d spent years as a professional wrestler and been awarded the Armed Forces Service Medal in the Navy for my work as a surgical technician.
Now I’d been offered an even more important job.
“I’m going to be Captain America,” I repeated to Travis. I’d gotten a call from a man named John Buckland, an Iraq War vet and a former firefighter. He ran a group called Heroes 4 Higher. They dressed up as superheroes to teach kids how to be a hero in their own right.
John had seen a picture of me from my wrestling days. I competed dressed as Cap—red, white and blue uniform, star on my shield. It was a big hit with the crowd, but it had special meaning for me.
In striving to become a hero like him as a boy, I didn’t feel like a victim. Maybe in this program I could share that feeling with other children. “If anyone can do it, you can,” my brother said.
I started “work” right away, visiting elementary schools, hospitals and community centers. John dressed as Batman, his wife was Batgirl.
There was nothing better than talking to kids one-on-one, having them look at me and see a hero. Courtney from Milton Elementary wanted us to visit her school on her birthday to teach everyone to be nice to each other.
Abby met us at an anti-bullying rally at the mall where she appeared in a tiara. Cameron, a boy losing his fight against cancer, said we gave him courage.
“You really have become one of the heroes from our comic books,” Travis said. Well, not really, I thought as I suited up for an appearance for local kids at the American Legion last fall. I wasn’t capturing bad guys or saving lives. The kids just thought I did those things because of my costume.
Our hosts at the American Legion introduced us, and John and I—as Batman and Captain America—took the stage. The kids clapped and then quieted down.
I spoke about some of the challenges they might face at school and gave some tips about standing up to peer pressure. The kids were taking it all in. John suddenly stepped forward and pointed out the window to a house across the street. “That place is on fire!”
Brown smoke poured out of the windows, turning black. The ex-firefighter didn’t waste a minute. “Call 911,” he told the room, and both of us ran across the street, followed by some of the bikers who were there to give an anti-drug presentation. One of them, Tank, helped John to kick in the front door.
“Throw a rock through the window,” John then ordered me. “We need to get some of that smoke out!” John went inside the house, disappearing into the thick smoke. “Anyone home?” he shouted. No answer, thank goodness.
Across the street the kids shouted, “Go, Batman, go! You can do it, Captain America! You can do it!”
John emerged from the blackness with something in his arms—something furry. It was a gray and black cat. “He needs air,” I said.
Firefighters hosed down the house. John laid the cat on the grass, and we exchanged a desperate look. Neither of us had ever performed CPR on a cat before, but we had to try!
“Captain America and Batman will save him!” one of the kids shouted. John breathed air into the cat’s mouth. The cat twitched. His eyes sprang open. He hissed angrily. Success! By the time the family returned home, their pet was good as new.
EMTs treated John for smoke inhalation, while the kids stared at us, awestruck. “You saved him!” they said. “Batman and Captain America saved the cat!”
John turned to me. “Guess this really was a job for Batman and Captain America!” he said. My brother agreed when I told him all about it. “Superheroes giving a cat CPR,” he said. “That’s like a scene from a comic book!”
John and I received many accolades for our actions that day. At the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival Parade we were reunited with Bob the Cat and family. The fire damage wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, and they were back in their home already.
Now people were not only calling us heroes—they were calling us angels. All I knew was, for one day God had truly granted my adventurous boyhood wish.
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