For John Cena, what began as a regular match turned into an opportunity to make a young boy's biggest dream come true.
Payton Marion, a 12-year-old boy with Cerebral palsy, came face to face with his childhood hero thanks in part to the determination of his devoted father, Justin.
As he told E! News, his son grew to love the decorated wrestler because "he always seemed to be the winner."
"Payton and I have always been very competitive. We would wrestle each other at home and Payton just had to win," Marion told E! News exclusively. "It started a few years ago when he got too old for cartoons. I introduced him to what I used to watch at his age."
The youngster quickly became enthralled with Cena and "hooked on the drive John Cena had to win," as his dad explained. "He also loved the moves John Cena would use. There are many things that Payton can't do because of his disability, so wrestling because something that was possible for him." Cena even helps Payton in physical therapy, where they use his wrestling videos to encourage the boy to exercise his arms.
So, when the WWE was slated to arrive in Tennessee, Justin couldn't let the chance to unite Cena with his biggest admirer pass them by. "I started looking at ticket pricing and noticed a VIP experience. I saw these tickets were $500 a piece," the dad recalled. "I knew that wasn't possible for us to pay that amount at the time, but I had to make this possible. I decided to create a GoFundMe page and see if family and friends would help one of Payton's dreams come true. Within two days of creating a page and sharing Payton's dream, we raised $1,000."
It was enough for two tickets, so the father and son headed to the hall for their meet-and-greet package, though there was no guarantee on which wrestlers they would get to meet. After mingling with a few pros and taking their seats for about two hours of the show without any sign of Cena, "Icould tell Payton was having fun, but I could start seeing disappointment in his face." Not for long!
Soon, Cena's signature music played and the wrestler started making his way to the ring, spotting one fan in particular on the way. "John Cena instantly saw Payton when he came out," Justin described.
"He is known for throwing his gear, so I had people around me help make Payton noticeable and it worked. He threw his shirt right to Payton and pointed at him."
However, while the match may have ended on a high note, the night was not over yet. "I wasn't going to let my son be in the same building as his hero and not at least attempt to find him," his dad told E! News. With the help of Cena's opponent for the night, AJ Styles, they ended up in a hallway. In no time, Cena was walking out to greet them and immediately recognized Payton from the arena.
"That moment will never compare to anything because it meant so much to me as a dad that Cena took this time with my son after he just wrestled a match and was probably exhausted. As Payton's dad, I see Payton get let down or saddened by the fact that he misses out on so much in life. He sees so many other kids his age doing things he wishes he could do and he sometimes doesn't understand," Justin said.
"The fact that I could make one of his dreams come true and not let him down was amazing. I literally felt like Superdad. I felt like all the hardship Payton feels on a daily basis was gone. I felt like Payton was a normal kid just getting to experience something he his passionate about. I want Payton to know he has dreams just like anybody else."
After a few days of reflection, Justin has a heartfelt message. "I want to tell him what a blessing he is for not only my son, but all special needs kids. He changed my son's life and we are forever grateful for that time with him," he added. "Sometimes I don't think celebrities feel they make a difference, but he most certainly made everyone in our family a fan of his. I know I would tell him to continue doing what he does and to keep in touch. Continue being that role model for kids everywhere."
As for Payton, he wants Cena to know he'll always be watching. "He can't wait to cheer [John] on in every match and [he] better win for him," his dad said. "He also wants [John] to know he would win if he got to wrestle [him]."
"John Cena is a true picture of what all people should represent," Justin concluded. "Payton is definitely his biggest fan and that won't ever change."