PHILADELPHIA — The most important moment at Philadelphia Eagles training camp Friday didn’t happen on the field, but rather a few yards off it, where a boy got to meet his idol, Carson Wentz.
Positioned at the edge of the guest tent and rocking a green mohawk to match his No. 11 jersey, Giovanni Hamilton was overcome with emotion as Wentz stood in front of him. When Wentz was done penning his autograph on the spare Wentz jersey that Giovanni had brought with him, Giovanni reached out for a hug.
“You’re my hero,” he said through tears.
Giovanni is 11 years old and lives in Muncy, Pennsylvania, about 180 miles Northwest of Philadelphia. He has a rare condition called Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, which his mother, Shannon, likened to a combination of muscular dystrophy and dwarfism. He has had 12 surgeries since age 2, from hip construction to eye surgery to, most recently, jaw distraction back in May.
“We actually lengthened [his jaw] an inch, and we had to turn pins every day in order to do that in moving him one millimeter a day,” Shannon said. “It was really painful and just awful. But he told me, he said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be strong like Carson. Look at how he’s doing with his knee. Look at how he’s doing with his back.’ And it just meant everything for him to finally meet Carson. He just choked up. He couldn’t get the words out. So of course I lost it.”
Giovanni had his wish granted to meet Wentz through a foundation called Bianca’s Kids. Cruising in a wheelchair, he took in practice along the sidelines before the big moment arrived.
“It meant everything, because he’s my hero,” Giovanni said of meeting Wentz. “And he’s so nice. And he’s super strong. And he’s a great role model.”
Wentz has made an impact on the lives of families with ailing children since joining the Eagles. He formed a special relationship with Lukas Kusters, a boy whose final wish was to meet Wentz so he could thank him for an encouraging video Wentz sent him as he went through cancer treatment. Kusters, also known as the “Dutch Destroyer” for his prowess on the football field, gave Wentz a Dutch Destroyer bracelet during their encounter in 2017, which Wentz still wears to this day. Their story is credited with saving the life of a boy named Max, whose parents recognized some of the symptoms Lukas was described as having and were prompted to take Max to the hospital, leading to the early detection of cancer, now in remission.
Wentz also has an outdoor youth program called “Camp Conquerors,” serving kids with life-threatening illnesses and those with physical challenges.
On Friday, Giovanni was the center of attention.
“He lives with pain daily,” Shannon said. “It’s awful to watch. But Carson … he wants to be a football coach because of Carson. He said, ‘Mom, I will work for the Eagles one day.'”