Victoria: How is the Hospital Heroes tour going?
Dustin: Well, so far, this entire project has been a massive repetitive lesson in, "If it can go wrong... It will.", but I'm very fortunate to have the ability to learn lessons quickly and I tend to see hardships as opportunities to grow stronger. Every step back is just give you more room for a running start. Since beginning the project in August, I've had fundraising issues, scheduling problems, hospital cancellations, public relations nightmares and pretty much everything in between. The tour has been postponed twice so far, but it just strengthens my resolve to actually see it to fruition.
Victoria: What hospitals have you visited thus far?
Dustin: I visited a few hospitals on the east coast in September. Among these were the Greenville Children's Hospital and Levine Children's Hospital. I have also done appearances at elementary schools and given talks on self-esteem and how to deal with bullies without becoming one of them.
Victoria: How do the children react upon seeing Superman enter the room?
Dustin: It depends on where I am, really. In some hospitals, the kids have only been in there for a few hours and nobody has anything more serious than the sniffles. Those kids tend to be more "...eh." about things. Though, in other hospitals, where the kids have been there for weeks or months, they light up like Las Vegas on New Year's Eve. They immediately begin beaming and trying to sit up in their beds (which, often times, isn't possible due to their illness) while looking SO excited. Those kids are the ones that stick with me and the ones that make it all so worth it. The ones that latch onto you with the biggest hug they can manage and never seem to let go.
Victoria: Can you share a memorable story from one of your visits?
Dustin: I was visiting a children's hospital in Virginia last September. Upon arriving, I found out that it wasn't a normal hospital, but rather like a nursing home for children with developmental disorders that made it impossible for their parents to be able to give them the proper care that they need at home. Most of these kids are unable to speak and are forever bound to motorized wheelchairs that have to be operated by blowing into a tube. Hardly any were able to speak, though some were only able to communicate through computer programs (much like Stephen Hawking).
I went into one of the classrooms and this one girl began following me around in her power chair. She kept running it into my leg and the nurse said, "Ha! That means she likes you!" Now, this girl looked to be about three or four years old, but she could have very well been ten or eleven because of the developmental problems. She couldn't speak and wasn't very mobile, but she reached her arms out to me. The nurse said that she wants for me to pick her up. They helped release the restraints on her chair and I knelt down to pick her up. As I was lifting her, a faint smile was becoming visible on her face and as soon as she was at my chest/shoulder level, she looked straight up and extended one arm into the air like she was flying. This girl could barely sit up straight, but that wasn't going to stop her from flying with Superman. Suddenly, there was not one dry eye in that room.
THIS is why I do what I do.
Victoria: How do you feel emotionally after leaving the hospital?
Dustin: Again, that really depends on the hospital and what happened before I left. Sometimes, I leave feeling calm and pretty normal. Other times, I leave in tears. Those kids take me through the full spectrum of emotions at times. Watching their strength of heart and sheer will is astounding beyond words. For the most part, though, I leave with a very quiet and solemn feeling where my respect for those kids is just through the roof while I am incredibly humbled. A lot of people call me a "hero" for going to visit these kids, but really... These kids are my heroes for LETTING me visit them and seeing the true superhuman feats each one of them is capable of because they don't know how to give up.
Victoria: Do you feel that you're accomplishing your goals?
Dustin: I do, actually. They've taken a LOT longer than planned originally, but I'd rather it take longer and be awesome instead of a rush job that just ends in mediocrity. The goals have also grown in size and scope since the project originally began. It's all been very exciting and I'm very much looking forward to seeing where things go from here. One of the biggest goals I set when I began the Hospital Heroes project was to inspire adults as well as children. This particular aspect has gone much better and further than I ever imagined. I get to see the reactions of the children when I visit the hospitals, but I hear from the adults almost constantly.
I get a few e-mails per week from people who have been inspired to get involved in charity work, make more donations, or some who even changed careers because my work in Hospital Heroes helped to show them that ANYONE can make a difference as long as they're willing to try. THAT was something that was completely unexpected, but rewarding beyond measure. I rarely find myself with dry eyes when I read these messages.
A year ago, I would have thought that such a thing would make me proud, but instead I just feel more humbled every single time I hear it. It makes me understand just how important all of our actions truly are, especially in how we treat people. I've gotten messages from people who decided against SUICIDE because of this project, but my first thoughts are immediately to, "What if I hadn't done it? What if I decided to put out negativity instead? What if this person saw me on a bad day rather than that exact moment?" and the importance of kindness and positivity are proven to me all over again. It just makes me realize how connected we all are and how what we perceive as the smallest act might mean the world to someone else. We all have this immense responsibility to one another, but so many of us seem to have forgotten.
Victoria: What does 2013 hold for the Hospital Heroes tour?
Dustin: So much! All of the pieces are finally falling into place. I'm filming a new video this week to go along with the fundraising effort. After that, I'll be off to New Orleans to work as a street performer in my Superman gear to raise money. I'll be working as the emcee for the Spartan Race and also part of the build crew for six weeks, then the tour will officially begin! I'm trying to save up as much money of my own as possible because I grossly under-estimated the costs that would be associated with this tour when I originally set up the fundraisers. I REALLY hate asking people for money (even for a good cause), so I'm trying to cover the remainder out of my own pocket.
Victoria: We seem to be living in a world full of hatred and violence. How do you feel when you hear stories like the Newtown school shooting?
Dustin: There really aren't words for how such an event can make you feel. It's just an avalanche of emotion that overwhelms you so quickly. So much confusion, anger, terror, and sadness. We begin looking for any way to cope that we can imagine.
Sometimes, we look to the person who committed such an act in hopes that we can make sense of things. We want them to have had a reason for what they did. We can't handle the idea that someone would cause such pain and torment without reason or provocation. We want the world to make sense. The sad truth is that the world rarely makes sense. It's a dark and scary place, but only getting worse by the day. Evil rises to blot out any ray of hope that the good might cling to. Good succumbs to fear and loses memory of the immense power that it still holds.
This is precisely why we have to band together and hold close those who mean so much to us. Never let someone be unaware of how valuable they are to you. Never miss a chance to say something nice to a stranger or share a positive thought. You never know who might REALLY need to hear it. Life is sick. It's disgusting and cruel. Around every corner waits bad news, disappointment and pain. But you know what? These trials are what teach us to enjoy the good times, no matter how brief or fleeting they may be. Every let-down is a chance to get up. Every setback is an opportunity to shoot forward. Every time we fall is a chance to stand taller than ever before. Through this pain, we gain strength. When we share this strength with others, we find love. And love is what makes the rest of life worth the effort.
Victoria: You've been attending conventions and shows all around the country and often find yourself in comical situations. Can you share one of your hilarious adventures?
Dustin: Oh man. This exact question is the reason I'm working on writing my first book (Well, that, and your constant prodding of me to do so. ;P ). It's legitimately hard to narrow this down. I suppose a couple of short ones would work. I was in the airport in Atlanta getting ready to fly to Philadelphia for a Spartan Race event. I was wearing a Superman t-shirt and walking toward an escalator. As I got to it, I saw a young boy standing there looking terrified while his mother called to him from halfway down the escalator. She thought he'd gotten on with her, but was too scared and stayed behind. He saw me and screamed:
"SUPERRMAAAANNNNNNNN!!" and refused to step onto the escalator until I held his hand.
In another airport, I was having my carry-on bag screened. I accidentally forgot about a small bottle of face wash and they had to open my bag and search it. The TSA agent was actually a rather attractive young woman who was quite chatty (looking back, I think this may have actually been flirting, but I am HORRIBLE at picking up on that until three months later). She unzipped my suitcase to reveal a large set of red boots and my Superman uniform underneath. She stared at it, then up at me, back down to the suit, then back up to me. She looked confused, yet intrigued, and I finally broke the silence with, "I thought I'd see how the rest of you fly for a change." and she started laughing uproariously, zipped my bag closed and said "Go.. Just go." I gave her a quick salute and a "Good day, citizen." and moved on.
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