First, there was Superman, then Batman and Spiderman.
Now there’s a new caped crusader to add to that growing list of superheroes: Texas police officer Damon Cole.
Sure, Cole helps protect the streets of Fort Worth, Texas as a member of the local police department. But it’s what he does outside of work that has social media buzzing: dressing up as some of today’s most popular superheroes and visiting sick children in hospitals across the United States for the past four years.
His mission is simple: bring smiles to the faces of kids across the country who are facing their own brave battles and need a little light in their lives.
“With most of them their jaw drops when they see me and they’ll run to me and give me a hug,” Cole says. “It makes me feel what I can only imagine it would feel like to win the lottery. It’s a feeling I can’t describe because if this was my 10-year-old daughter, I would lose my mind if she got sick. So I immediately see all these kids as my kids and I think, ‘What would I want someone to do for my family?’”
His dedication to his role is unwavering, from the costumes to the time he puts into his efforts.
Not only does he have many costumes – among them Batman, Spiderman, the Hulk, Superman, Iron Man and Optimus Prime – but they don’t come cheap. Sometimes, he says, his costumes can cost him upwards of $1,000 – which comes all out of his own pocket.
The Texan will also drive across the country to meet with children whose parents request a visit. There are times, he says, where he’s driven 14 hours to a family.
He even keeps in touch with all the families he’s met with over the years.
There have been moments, however, where Cole has lost one of his new friends to cancer and other illnesses. In every case, he says, he’s gone to their funeral dressed as their favourite superhero.
One of the children and moments that have stayed with Cole was when he met a little boy named Matthew.
Cole had learned about Matthew one morning when his parents reached out to the officer and asked if he could visit their son who was in hospice care. Cole dropped what he was doing and drove five hours to see the boy dressed as Batman.
When Cole got there around midnight Matthew was sleeping but woke up when his parents told him Batman was there to see him.
“He was not doing good and had been bed-ridden all week and you can tell the cancer had just worn him out,” Cole recalls. “He used all of his energy to sit up because he said he wanted to sit up next to Batman.”
So Cole and his family sat Matthew up in a wheelchair and the two just talked for a little bit before they put Matthew back in bed.
“I’ll never forget this – he looks at me and says ‘Batman, I’m sorry,’” Cole says. “I said, ‘What are you apologizing for, buddy?’ And he goes, ‘I would smile but I just don’t have the energy.’ That’s the only time I’ve been in character and I’ve cried. It killed me.”
When Cole got back to Fort Worth five hours later, he received a call from Matthew’s family saying he had passed away.
“It just kicked me in the gut,” Col says. “They told me they were going to give him a Batman funeral, and I told them they didn’t even have to say a word – just to let me know where and when and I’ll be there.”
Cole attended Matthew’s funeral dressed as Batman and for the entire ceremony, Cole stood beside Matthew’s Batman casket.
“I stayed with him until he was put to rest,” Cole says.
Matthew’s name, along with several other children Cole has met and attended their funeral, is commemorated on his car – a car he had custom painted to look like Superman’s ride.
“I know that what I do has a very big impact on these kids and their families and when I get a call from the parents afterwards thanking me, I know I did something good for them,” Cole says. “But people love to call me a hero. I’m not the hero – it’s the kids.”