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Action Sports stars and Make-A-Wish

2/25/2012
Courtesy JHMR

The Make-A-Wish Foundation's work with mainstream sports stars and children with life-threatening medical conditions is now well-known. What's less recognized is the role Action Sports stars and X Games luminaries now play in this equation. After seeing a Facebook photo of pro snowboarder/paradigm-shifter Travis Rice riding with "wish kid" Casey James in Jackson Hole, Wyo. recently, we decided to find out what role sideways-standing stars play in the greater Wish equation.

In short, it's not all quarterbacks and point guards that wish kids are keen to meet up with...

The Make-A-Wish foundation began in 1980 and has evolved into a powerhouse that now grants a wish in the US every 40 minutes. Think about that for a second: In fiscal 2010, the group granted a record 13,580 wishes. Shaina Reeser, the Sports Program Manager in the US who has helped over 1,100 kids receive a sports-related wish, said that she is seeing more Action Sports events and athletes pop up all the time and that there are definitely more of these requests now than when she started five years ago:

"Everyone's hero is different," she explains. "I've helped grant wishes involving some of the most successful and well-known sports stars around, but granted just as many with professional bowlers and paintballers or bass fisherman -- and even wishes to meet race horses (the horse, not the jockey). To the wish child, meeting their hero can be a life-changing event. In fact, parents and health professionals alike describe the wish experience as a frequent turning point in wish kids' battles for health."

A few high-profile Action athletes who've granted wishes to sick kids already includes: surfers Bethany Hamilton and Kelly Slater; freeskier Jossi Wells; FMX stars Travis Pastrana, Ryan Dungee, Robbie Maddison, Ricky Carmichael; and skateboarders Tony Hawk, Ryan Sheckler, Bam Margera and Rob Dyrdek.

On-deck for near-future fulfillments are seven surf-based wishes and two involving freeskiers. Dyrdek has no less than 14 requests in his queue; White has seven tentatively scheduled for April alone; and Pastrana has four to five requests pending.

"The most memorable wishes for me are when the wish kid and the athlete are both able to relax and enjoy the moment," says Reeser. "When Travis Pastrana met Brett, a teenager from New York [Ed. for the ESPN 'My Wish' series], I could tell Travis was having as much fun as Brett. That day they were able to be just a couple of guys who both love to play with bikes, quads and cars. That is one reason why wish experiences are more than just a nice thing -- they help kids regain a sense of self-confidence that comes with feeling 'normal' again, and help them feel stronger and more energetic."

"Shaun's own experiences with a congenital heart condition [ Ed. Tetralogy of Fallot ] allow him to relate to [Wish kids] in a way that many others cannot," she continues. "Shaun granted a wish for a teenager named Kyle from San Diego a few years back. When the two met they realized they both had heart surgery performed by the same doctor and have matching scars to prove it."

As for Casey James, the 18-year-old Travis Rice fan who was diagnosed at birth with renal disease and got to snowboard with his hero recently, he says: "I can't thank Make-A-Wish enough for making my wish truly a once in a lifetime experience! I've watched Travis for many years as he has moved up the ranks and gotten so unbelievably talented. I have always been in awe of him and the way he presents himself as a normal guy who loves snowboarding. He is so well spoken and down-to-earth. I was sitting next to him at breakfast and, every time I looked at him, I would be like, 'Oh man, that's Travis Rice right next to me!' But when he spoke to me, it was so normal and natural. It was like talking to a good friend."

In true Rice fashion, the wish-granting was taken a step further when the star snowboarder took James heli-boarding the day after the "wish day" they spent shredding at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. "From the first meeting ... to the next two incredible, fun-filled days, I was very overwhelmed by Travis's humble personality and sincere desire to make me have the time of my life!" says James. "His generosity was so unexpected but totally appreciated ... being able to go heli-skiing with him ... that was totally unexpected and I was super grateful that he wanted to do that with me."

Find out more about Make-A-Wish at wish.org.