Triple H never imagined that two words could mean so much.
It was a passing moment, one of maybe 50 that happen to a WWE Superstar before a match during a tour. In between media interviews, photo shoots and match preparation, Triple H met an 8-year-old at a Live Event 10 years ago in Cardiff, Wales. For Grant Woodley, that moment marked a change for his son Luke.
Luke was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy. Doctors said he would never walk or talk extensively. The complications gave the Woodley family an unusual schedule, but that helped spur Luke’s interest in WWE.
“With the late-night feedings, we would sit and watch wrestling together,” Grant said. “As he got older, he got more into watching it with me. One evening, I was feeding him and he said, ‘Is WWE back on again?’ It used to be our time together.”
In October 2007, the Starlight Children’s Foundation offered to grant Luke’s wish and send him to his first WWE event. They asked him a series of questions about his favorite WWE Superstars, and the Woodley family made the two-and-a-half-hour trek to Cardiff.
At that point, Luke could talk, but had barely conversed with anyone outside of his immediate family. His parents were concerned about taking him to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.
“To come to an environment he had never been to before was daunting enough for us,” Grant said. “We didn’t know how he would react to seeing the show live.”
The Woodley family was thrilled to go to their first WWE show, let alone meet Triple H, one of Luke’s favorite competitors.
Before The Game competed in the night’s main event, he hung out with the Woodleys. Much to Grant’s surprise, his quiet son came out of his shell to carry on a full conversation.
“Triple H was asking him questions, and he’d answer them as best he could with his limited speech vocabulary,” Grant said. “Having that type of conversation with someone he never met before broke us down. It was beautiful. I don’t think Luke’s speech at this point would have been anywhere near as good as it is now if it hadn’t been for him.”
The brief meeting became a major part of Luke’s life. Every time Triple H appeared during a WWE show — whether taking out fan-favorites or standing tall with them — the story came up. Luke reminded his parents of what Triple H said to him.
“There’s rarely a time when he doesn’t mention it — especially the fact that Triple H called him ‘his buddy,’ ” Grant said. “That stuck with him forever. Every time he sees Triple H on screen, he says, ‘That’s my buddy!’”
Luke is about to turn 18, and his father greatly credits that simple interaction with Triple H for Luke’s unexpected speech development in the past 10 years. Grant tried to get that message to Triple H for a decade, and after seeing Luke’s photo on Twitter, the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events & Creative was taken aback, struggling to put his reaction into words.
“It’s humbling,” Triple H said. “It’s amazing. By far, this kind of thing is the greatest part of what we do. Every now and then, it comes back to you that it’s so much bigger than you even can contemplate.”
During his 22-year WWE career, Triple H has won 14 World Championships and competed in front of some of the largest crowds in history. But he insists that granting a wish and giving a family that special moment is the best perk of the job.
“That’s a big part of what we do, and it’s probably the coolest part,” he said. “One of the biggest privileges of what we do is to create something special for them. It’s hard to put into words that you make a difference in a kid’s life that you met in passing.”
He equated Superstars’ fame to being a superhero. They’re able to bring a smile to a young fan’s face with so much as a high-five. It’s a lofty responsibility, but one that Superstars should take advantage of, according to Triple H.
“As a dad, I can look at it and say that there’s nothing greater to you than a smile on your kid’s face,” the father of three said. “(As a Superstar), you’re there for the kids and they’re smiling and happy, and in that moment, they’re not sick. For the parents, that’s the greatest gift you can possibly give them. That’s an awesome, humbling responsibility and honor.”
And on that day 10 years ago, Triple H saw a special kid and treated him like an old friend. What might have been five minutes became a lasting moment in time. Triple H wanted the family to know he’s just as grateful for having the opportunity to meet Luke.
“Everything that Grant thinks I did for Luke, that gives it back to me tenfold,” Triple H said. “I know I said it then, but Luke will always be my buddy.”