Urkaine teen Misha Rohozhyn's efforts to flee his war-torn country were driven by his mother's promise that he would meet pro wrestler John Cena once they reached safety.
Cena, who holds the world record for granting the most Make-A-Wish Foundation requests, at 650, made Rohozhyn's dream come true this past weekend when he flew from the United States to the Netherlands to meet the teen, who has Down syndrome.
The hope of eventually getting to meet Cena was what helped the 19-year-old Rohozhyn to stay motivated – and as calm as possible – in his nearly continuous trek through bunkers and shelters, following the Russia invasion that began in late February.
He also carried his tablet filled with pictures and videos of Cena for comfort – as he and his mother fled from their former home in Mariupol, in southern Ukraine.
The journey has also been difficult for his mother, Liana, who must try to comfort her son, whose condition makes him hypersensitive to loud sounds including rocket fire and buildings toppling.
When missiles fell on the shelter in which the Rohozhyn family was hiding, 1,000 people became silent as Misha Rohozhyn screamed in the basement amid a panic attack.
"Usual life has been destroyed, you have to adapt to new circumstances, and that is very hard," Liana Rohozhyn told The Wall Street Journal.
The mother ended up avoiding crowded shelters after the episode, which forced them to move around more often.
In May, the family finally got out of Ukraine. But Rohozhyn's idol was nowhere to be found, which his mother said made her son upset.
When Cena first heard about about Rohozhyn story, in a Wall Street Journal article, the wrestler immediately went to the Dutch town of Huizen to spend time with him.
With Rohozhyn unable to talk, Cena greeted him with a handshake, followed by a hug.
The two sent much of the rest of the day just playing with building blocks and eating cake. Cena also took time to play with other refugee children in town.
"Misha and his mom are two great examples of how persistence can lead to joy, even through the toughest of times." Cena says in a video about the meeting and his experience with the Rohozhyns. "This is a wonderful adventure in which I got to meet a wonderful new friend. Thank you for giving me strength."
Liana Rohozhyn said Cena's visit marked the first time she'd seen her son smile since the war started.
Cena also gave Rohozhyn his signature "Never Give Up" hat and T-shirt as well as a new WWE belt.