With great power there must also come great responsibility — and Carson City native Tony Marsella is continuing that legend at a children’s hospital as Spider-Man.
“To bring in therapy dogs or dress up in other costumes are great, but I wanted to go beyond that,” he said. “In my heart, children’s hospitals are an epicenter for creativity.”
While pursuing a degree in kinesiology at William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., the 22-year-old Sierra Lutheran High School alumnus is portraying Spider-Man to uplift children at Northern California Shriners Hospital.
His effort has been a success as he made one 9-year-old girl’s dream come true to “meet” Spider-Man in real life earlier this month.
In his costume, Marsella took Shriners Hospital patient, Abigail Westlund, to see the premiere of “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
Abigail has congenital scoliosis and has undergone 12 surgeries since she was 3, said her mother, Sandee Westlund.
Shriners Hospitals are non-profits and part of the Shriners organization. The hospitals rely on donations from members, corporations, and communities.
There are 20 Shriners Hospitals in the country.
“When he came in as Spider-Man, Abby said she kind of forgot she was hurting,” Westlund said. “It was a special thing for the both of them. To be invited to the premiere of the movie is something my kid will never forget.”
The suit Marsella wears is a replica, designed by Marvel Studios, in which he raised $2,000 through family, friends, and sponsors to obtain from Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios.
Although he enjoys turning into Spider-Man during his leisure time, his main mission is to make sick children happy. “It’s a way to encourage others to get involved with local hospitals,” he said. “I’m using it to practice how to network, manage money, and fundraise. I want to move on to human resources and raise funds for food, water, and developing technology. I’ve always had a passion for taking care of others.”
His involvement was recognized nationwide as 29 news stations shared his story. Marsella also made an impact to his colleagues at the kinesiology club at William Jessup University and was elected as student body president, said Scott Roberts, professor and chair of the university’s kinesiology department.
“Tony is the person in life that makes you want to be a better person from just being around him,” he said. “He has boundless energy and just makes people around him feel good about themselves. He is truly a superhero in my book.”
Before Marsella moved to Rocklin, he began his work at Renown’s Children Hospital in Reno before connecting with Shriners.
What inspired Marsella to follow his passion was his four-year illness around the time he was 15.
“I can’t tell you how many nights I had sitting up in bad stomach pains,” he said. “I did blood work, changed my diet, and went to different hospitals before I learned it was an infection.”
During his time of struggle, he took over the situation and looked up to Spider-Man — his favorite hero. “I remember being in my room one day feeling frustrated with my health,” he said. “It was a turning point for me and I went through a world I didn’t know existed. I developed this passion and heart to encourage other kids in the hospital, and thought about how I could get involved.”
After changing life routines, Marsella’s health today is better than ever. After his experience with Renown, he partnered with Northern California’s Sevilla Magic FX, a character and magic show organization, along with A-1 Comics as a sponsor, which donated $1,000 to Marsella to obtain the suit.
Although he visits the hospital on a monthly basis — while making surprise appearances at birthday parties on the side — Marsella hopes to raise more money for the hospital by eventually selling the costume’s web shooters and other technology at Comic Con events.
Although his service is a good cause, one thing Marsella and Spider-Man can agree on is being a superhero isn’t always easy.
“A lot of kids will try to break your character,” he said. “But you got to play along with it.”
But to be a superhero kids can look up to is always rewarding.
“As fun and goofy it can be, I’ve had some intense encounters,” he said. “There are families that are losing their children over a terminal illness, but they still want me to visit them. It becomes a surreal moment but for some reason, I’m able to encourage those families.”