Discover how a dream led this man to quit his job and become a real life Spider-Man

21st Dec 18 | Real Life

Ricky Mena left his job with just £240 to his name to launch a non-profit business which brings joy to disadvantaged children.

PA Real Life - Ricky Mena - Spider-Man

Quitting a dead end job with just £240 to his name, a former security guard revealed how he became a real-life Spider-Man, after his dead grandmother visited him in a dream.

Ricky Mena, 35, launched his non-profit business, Heart of a Hero, following the extraordinary visitation, during which they watched a movie together, where the Marvel comic character helped terminally ill children, instead of fighting crime.

Ricky, of Pittsburg, California, USA, whose wife, Kendall, 24, does the company admin, said: “In this film, rather than fighting crime, Spidey was helping kids in less fortunate situations find happiness in life. My grandmother turned to me in the dream and said, ‘That’s exactly what you should do.'”

Ricky during Christmas visits (PA Real Life/Collect)

He continued: “Even though I had hardly any money, I knew when I woke up that I wanted to be just like that Spider-Man.

“I was so excited when the first superhero suit I ordered finally arrived – being the exact same height and weight as Spider-Man in the comics, it felt perfect.

“I stood in front of the mirror and felt like it had chosen me, as much as I had chosen it. That was 2014 and I haven’t looked back.”

Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)

Since starting Heart of a Hero, Ricky has helped bring a smile to the faces of 11,000 sick children – even following one to England for treatment – mostly visiting them in hospital, wearing his £400-£500 Spider-Man costumes and bringing them gifts.

As his administrator, Kendall – who he met during a gym session in late 2017 – sifts through hundreds of messages from parents of poorly children, sent to his social media, asking him to visit them and bring some much-needed joy.

Now Ricky does graphic design work and Kendall works as a personal trainer, to fund their lives and enable them to devote most of their time unpaid to running their hero venture.

Ricky at Rylan’s funeral (PA Real Life/Collect)

But when he started out, Ricky was still working as a security man in a bar, until a poignant experience in October 2014 changed his life forever.

He recalled: “Rylan, a young boy I got to know and visited on many occasions, sadly passed away. His father asked me to carry his casket. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You never think you’ll see a child die right in front of you.

“When the funeral was over, I went straight to the bar to start my night shift, even though my friends said I should call in sick. I knew I couldn’t because I was desperate for the money.”

Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)

He continued: “I cried and cried before I started my shift – I was a total wreck. That night there was an altercation at the bar and I got punched straight in the face. That punch was all I needed to knock my head into shape and make me leave my job.”

From humble beginnings – crowdfunding and selling his Chrysler 300 car for £8,600 so he could start his superhero work – Ricky has now recruited several willing volunteers, happy to dress as fellow superheroes, including Mr Incredible and Iron Man, to visit sick children alongside him.

Meanwhile, thanks to a number of generous donations, Ricky now has a collection of 12 Spider-Man suits, to keep up with his constantly changing look in the movies and a van, to travel from hospital to hospital.

Explaining why he does it, he said: “Spider-Man shows peace, inspiration and fun. It turns into therapy for the kids to have someone to laugh with.”

And his role comes into its own at Christmas, when he has a separate festive crowdfunding page, specifically for gifts, and buys things like brand new bikes and huge cuddly bears for children whose parents cannot afford them.

Although he has help from donations, Ricky and his wife say they still struggle, as he tries to make extra money on the side by doing freelance graphic design work.

Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)

Ricky, who wears a Santa hat and coat on top of his Spidey suit during the festivities, said: “Christmas is a tough time to do what I do.  I remember all the kids we lost throughout the year, but I still love the spirit of giving and bringing children in need the gifts they deserve.

“Any child in need – sick, poor or bullied – deserves a magical Christmas. I love showing up outside their houses with a truck of huge teddy bears and bikes and handing them out.

“I’ve seen kids scream and cry with excitement. A single mum of four who couldn’t even afford one gift fell to her knees and sobbed when I knocked on her door and gave her kids five expensive gifts each.”

Ricky at Rylan’s funeral with another member of his charity (PA Real Life/Collect)

Meanwhile, Ricky has forged some very special bonds with children he has visited and their families.

Remembering one little girl, Zamora, who sadly passed away, aged nine, following a two-year battle with DIPG – Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a highly aggressive and incurable brain tumour – he recalled going to the UK with her and her mum, Marisa Martinez, 49, in March 2017.

Growing particularly close to her and her family, Ricky bought a plane ticket to London, so he could be there for the child when she received what her parents believed would be better treatment.

Ricky at Rylan’s funeral (PA Real Life/Collect)

Marisa praised Ricky, saying: “He couldn’t do more if he tried. He barely has any money but uses all of it to help others.

“He wants to change the world for children. He’s such a beautiful person and an angel in my life.

“He was with Zamora only a few months before she died, but I know it meant the world to her. He doesn’t showboat about it, he just genuinely wanted to be there for us.”

Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added: “Zamora’s dad, Marc Lusinthi, 49, had to go back to the US for work, leaving me alone with Zamora and her younger sister Xavia, now nine.

“Ricky helped take Xavia to school when I couldn’t be there – he was a huge help to our lives.”

But for Ricky, who definitely wants his own kids in the future when he is more financially stable, there is nothing more satisfying than bringing a smile to the face of a child who is suffering.

Ricky with Zamora (PA Real Life/Collect)

He said: “I’m not an angel, or a superhero, I’m just human and able to spot when children need some extra light in their lives.”

You can donate to help fund Ricky’s charity work at www.DonorBox.org/HeartOfaHero

© Press Association 2018

MORE FROM XPOSÉ