Tiny hero captures KC hearts

05/16/2014 11:28 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

When the city needed a hero Friday, 6-year-old Isai Rojas didn’t ask questions.

He simply dropped his fork, left what little remained of the pancakes and sausage on his plate, and slipped into his personalized shiny gold-and-red, crime-fighting superhero suit.

Then he set about saving this fountain-filled metropolis we call home.

It started with the villain Cucaracha, sleazy even by villain standards. Dressed in a bug-like costume manned by Overland Park standup comedian Randy Burgard, Cucaracha — Spanish for “cockroach” — surfaced early Friday morning inside a Mission restaurant, attempting to steal a woman’s purse.

Unfortunately for him, he picked the same Bob Evans that Isai and his family happened to be patronizing.

What happened next, according to witnesses and grainy cellphone photos, is this: Flanked by his parents (Gustavo and Idania Rojas), 7-year-old brother (Aleksei) and 8-month-old sister (Yaretzi), Iron Boy chased the villain away.

But it hardly ended there. That incident kicked off an adventure that — thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Missouri, which helped facilitate the creation of “Muchacho de Hierro” — would span eight hours, two states and warrant a bundle of media attention.

Here was a hero, after all, that Kansas City could get behind, much like “Batkid” captured the heart of San Francisco.

This pint-sized kindergartner who likes art and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had battled through a leukemia diagnosis — now in remission — since the age of 2. A superhero secure enough in his self-image to allow his mom, at one point Friday, to assist him in blowing his nose.

And one, it turned out, whose own childhood had prepared him for this moment.

“Cucaracha,” he explained in a manner that suggested mild annoyance, “is just like my brother.”

It was just four years ago, after all, that Isai’s Shawnee parents, concerned with the random bruising and loss of appetite from which their son suffered, took him to a local hospital. A spinal tap would confirm leukemia. The diagnosis left his parents in confused disbelief and launched a grueling stretch of procedures, chemo sessions and doctors visits.

“When you’re not informed about a disease, you’re not expecting that leukemia can happen to one of your family members,” said his father, Gustavo Rojas. “It takes some time to understand what’s going on.”

Eventually, Make-A-Wish stepped in, as it had in November for San Francisco’s Miles Scott, another leukemia sufferer in remission.

“We do it for the kids,” said Missouri’s brand advancement manager, Kate Fotenos, who was on hand for Friday’s festivities. “And being able to see it firsthand just reinforces that.”

The day wouldn’t be without its difficulties, however.

Less than an hour after fleeing from the restaurant, word quickly spread that Cucaracha had weaseled his way into Crown Center’s Legoland, where he’d begun creeping around. That is, until Muchacho tracked him down, knocked him out basically with a single punch and then locked him inside a handy Lego cell.

But like many of his cockroach brethren, Cucaracha refused to be vanquished.

Not long after, he was spotted at Swope Park during a Sporting KC practice, attempting to make off with the team’s coveted MLS Cup. Once again, Muchacho de Hierro, with the help of team members, put a real lickin’ on him, chasing him into the net.

But once again, Cucaracha slithered away.

“He tied him up well, but I don’t know where Cucaracha went, because he’s not in the net anymore,” noted Sporting KC forward Soony Saad. “So (Muchacho) might have to save the day again.”

Indeed, after a brief encounter at Adventure Zip, a Bonner Springs zipline operation, during which Cucaracha was again able to escape, word came around 3 p.m. that the unthinkable had happened: In a disturbing turn of events, Cucaracha had invaded Kauffman Stadium.

The team’s beloved mascot, Sluggerrr, had been tied to a pole, with Muchacho being dared into one final showdown.

Muchacho roared to the rescue, in his best Tony Stark fashion. This was a kid, after all, who’d confidently assured listeners earlier, “I know how to kill bad guys.”

Fortunately the police arrived before anything that dire could happen.

When the dust had settled, Sluggerrr had been rescued, Cucaracha had been escorted away by the coppers and order had been restored.

“Watching him run around and try to get this bad guy?” said his father. “There’s no way to describe it.”

There would be more to do, of course. More bad guys to foil. More battles to fight.

But that would come later. As he and Sluggerrr headed off together, hand-in-paw, Muchacho de Hierro could take solace in one simple fact:

His work — for now, anyway — was done.

To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816-234-4039 or send email to darnett@kcstar.com.

Superhero name: Muchacho de Hierro (Iron Boy)

Secret Identity: Isai Rojas

Age: 6

Not-so-supervillain: Cucaracha (Cockroach)

Real supervillain: Leukemia

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