A wish, and a walk, for T.J. Peacock, and it keeps paying, and praying, forward

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There was an 11-year-old who wanted to meet Galaxy star Landon Donovan. A 6-year-old requested a day with the Kings’ Dustin Brown and was given the royal treatment. A 3-year-old simply asked to take his family to a Dodger game and meet a few players.

In 2010, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles was able to make good on 710 wishes for kids who had any kind of life-threatening medical condition. Nearly half of the wishes granted are amusement-park related. But almost one in 10 were to meet a celebrity – sports or otherwise.

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Twelve wishes were to meet a favorite pro basketball player. One wanted to be a USC football player for a day. Another wanted to meet his favorite horse jockey.

In many cases, the wishes take place out of the media spotlight. It’s a special moment for the athlete and the family. It’s mean to be that way.

“Every child has their own personal reason for wishing to meet a celebrity, whether they be an athlete or a Hollywood actor,” said Steve Vanderpool, the vice president and chief communications officer for Make-A-Wish L.A. (www.wishla.org), where more than 7,200 wishes have been fulfilled since this chapter opened in 1983.

“In my experience, no one has ever made media coverage a requirement for granting a wish and most are sincerely flattered that, out of all the wishes a child could have, they want to spend it on a chance to meet them.”

Jack Nicklaus, for example, was one of them. T.J. Peacock made that happen. But it seemed to be somewhat reciprocal.

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Nearly five years ago, T.J., who had been battling a brain tumor with surgery and chemotherapy, was able to have his wish granted – caddying a round of golf with Nicklaus.

T.J., who grew up in Downey with baseball as his passion, discovered that golf could be a real form of therapy. Round after round of radiation treatments were followed by more rounds on the golf course, even twice around the 9-hole South Gate par-3 course before it got too dark.

“He always had his clubs in the car,” said Diane Peacock, T.J.’s mother. “He’s had clubs in his hand since he was 5. I’d ask him if he just wanted to go home and lay down, but he wanted to go golf. I didn’t want him to play alone, so he’d ride in the cart and I’d walk behind him.”

T.J. made his Warren High School baseball team, but wasn’t able to play after his first seizure. He then made the golf team, and they made him the captain in his junior and senior year.

In May, 2006, Nicklaus was set to play the first round of golf on his signature course at the Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells. Make-A-Wish arranged for the 17-year-old T.J. to wear the white overalls with Nicklaus’ name on the back, pick out his clubs and help him read putts.

“It’s always been my dream to someday meet Jack Nicklaus,” T.J. said at the time.

“In this case, the honor is mine,” Nicklaus said. “He’s more than a golfer. He’s obviously a fighter. We can all learn life lessons from someone like T.J.”

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The day was capped off with T.J. giving Nicklaus the line on the final putt of the day on the 18th green – which Nicklaus rolled in for a birdie.

A couple of months later, after T.J. had been in remission and was doing well, the cancer returned. Nicklaus called the Peacock family house again to check not only on T.J., but his parents. The 15-minute conversation lifted their spirits.

“I was pretty amazed he’d take the time, and it mattered enough for him to do that,” said Diane. “He’s a wonderful man.”

When T.J. passed away in September of 2007, just four days short of his 19th birthday, Diane didn’t want the power of a sports wish to just quietly fade away.

Her wish: Pay it forward.

Each year, Diane has organized a group of family and friends, all wearing special “Team T.J.” T-shirts, to participate in the annual “Walk for Wishes” fundraiser. Three Saturdays ago, nearly 75 “Team T.J.” members did the two-mile walk around the Mattel headquarters in El Segundo, an event that drew more than 1,500 participants and generated nearly $200,000 in donations.

“It’s just about trying to thank all the good people in our lives who made things better for him and made his dreams come true,” said Diane, who, with her husband Larry, have two older sons, Travis (28) and Josh (35).

T.J. would be 22 this Sept. 24.

“Every parent says their kid is special,” she added. “But I don’t want anyone to forget T.J. and how special he was.”

As simple as that sounds, her wish had been granted.

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This is how Warren High School honored T.J. Peacock after his passing in 2007.

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ALSO:

== A remembrance of T.J. Peacock’s day with Jack Nicklaus from Larry Peacock at Make-A-Wish’s website (linked here).

== April 29 is World Wish Day (linked here).

== Here’s is a recent feature done on T.J. by KTLA-Channel 5:

 

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And thanks to Team T.J. for allowing me to join the group on the “Walk for Wishes” day recently in El Segundo.

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