He flips, he jumps, he climbs, he lifts spirits, and sometimes he causes neck-twisting double-takes on the street.
He’s Abilene Spidey and he’s on a mission to bring a little happiness into the lives of children, especially those who are hospitalized or have long term illnesses. Abilene Spidey’s alter ego, Chris Craig, knows a thing or two about illness and hospitalization.
Diagnosed at 6 months with cystic fibrosis, Chris, now 19, has had a lifetime of daily treatments and medications. And since he turned 16, periodic hospitalizations and questions about his future have entered the equation. But just like his hero, Spiderman, aka Peter Parker, Chris has turned his own life circumstances into a force for good.
Peter was ostracized as a kid because he was nerdy. Growing up, Chris sometimes was ostracized, too, because his condition made him different. He found a kindred spirit in Peter, and the more he paid attention, the more he picked up on something. Peter literally flipped his situation on its head.
“Despite the ostracization,” Chris said, “he did everything he could to help other people.”
FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD HERO
Abilene’s own version of Spiderman is doing the same thing by back-flipping his way into the hearts of sick or injured children and their appreciative parents. For example, back in March, 3-year-old Michael Miller, who also loves Spiderman, was in his costume when he jumped from a chair, landed on his elbow, and broke his arm.
His mom, Caitlin Miller, got him to the hospital and later posted the experience on Facebook. Chris, who knows the Millers, saw the posting and messaged Caitlin to ask permission to visit.
“It made my son’s day so much better,” Caitlin said. “He still tells everybody about it.”
And that’s the reward that Abilene Spidey gets from doing what he does. He never accepts money for his appearances. Instead, he gives of his time and talent by squeezing in Abilene Spidey appearances along with his hours working in the CVS pharmacy on Judge Ely Boulevard and his daily treatment regimen.
“I refuse to take money for charity work,” Chris said. “That just doesn’t sit well with me.”
Chris is in great demand, with bookings already set through the year. He has a Facebook page and a website, but he is his own best advertising. He’s hard to miss, arriving at a gig in his Spiderman-themed car, poking his masked head out the sunroof, climbing out, and immediately launching into his Spiderman persona.
Usually, he’s seen in a child’s hospital room or at a birthday party, but sometimes he appears at the oddest times. Chris always takes a Spiderman costume with him when he is hospitalized in case someone else needs cheering up. One day he was wearing it and looking out the window of his room when a window washer suddenly appeared on the other side.
“He like freaked out,” Chris laughed.
During the February super storm, Chris, dressed in a Spiderman costume, was taking pictures in the snow when he saw a car hit a pole. He sprung into action, helping the driver get the car out of the street. When a policeman arrived, he was a little surprised to see who had come to the rescue.
“Good job, Spiderman,” he said, no doubt with a smile.
A HERO’S BEGINNING A HERO’S BEGINNING
Chris developed a fascination with Spiderman at an early age. He was born Oct. 18, 2001, at Hendrick Medical Center before newborns were routinely screened for cystic fibrosis. He was diagnosed at 6 months after it became apparent something was wrong. That diagnosis began a lifetime of testing and treatments.
The “real” Spiderman, Peter Parker, was bitten by a genetically modified spider, which gave him spider-like qualities. Chris wasn’t bitten by a spider, but he was bitten by the Spiderman bug when he was a child. He doesn’t know how old he was when the fascination started, but he remembers watching movies, getting a Spiderman toy one Christmas, and eventually accumulating all things Spiderman, from underwear to blankets.
“As far as I can remember,” Chris said, “I was Spiderman every Halloween.”
As Chris got a little older and realized that he was somewhat different and that kids treated him that way, he latched on to Peter Parker. Chris even sat too close to the TV in hopes that his eyesight would fade and he would need glasses, just like Peter.
Chris was 6 or 7 years old when he learned that he had a disease known as cystic fibrosis, which causes mucus to thicken, clogging the lungs and obstructing the pancreas. He remembers crying with his grandmother until three o’clock in the morning as the prognosis began to sink in.
“I didn’t want to die,” he said.
He survived, but his life has been challenging. Much of his life has been spent at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth. It still is filled with special exercises, breathing treatments, medications, and periodic hospitalizations. It was during those hospitalizations that Chris discovered his dream job, one that he still hopes to achieve. He was so taken with his bedside caregivers that he he decided that’s wanted, too.
“I want your job,” he told the nurses. “I want to do what you do.”
SWINGING INTO ACTION
For now, Chris is pleased with his job in the pharmacy at the CVS store on Judge Ely Boulevard. He is in training to become a certified pharmacy technician. Chris has another job, too. He coaches gymnastics several days a week after leaving his CVS job. The love of gymnastics came naturally to Chris, as he did everything in his power to be like Spiderman. A 2020 graduate of Abilene High School, Chris was a member of the gymnastics team from 2017 to 2020.
Chris’ daily routine is strenuous by any measure. It includes exercises, medications, and “a whole slew of treatments” every morning and afternoon. He works 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the CVS pharmacy and coaches at the Gymnastics Sport Center on Ben Richey Drive, 4:40 to 7:30 p.m. most weekdays. How does he do all that?
“Get up early, go to bed late,” he said.
As if that daily routine weren’t enough, Chris literally jumps into action whenever he’s needed to put in an Abilene Spidey appearance. Kids love to see his Spidey car arrive and see their hero in one of his 15 handmade costumes.
Chris’ drive to succeed and to inspire children with illnesses is remarkable considering his own concerns. It wasn’t always that way. For a long time after learning that he had cystic fibrosis, Chris was afraid and admittedly felt sorry for himself.
But with the help of Spiderman and Peter Parker, as well as counselors, his attitude began to change and he began to use his circumstances to encourage others and to brighten their lives.
“There’s a good side to everything,” Chris said. “It’s how you deal with it.”
When Chris visits a child in the hospital, he shares his own story if asked. Most of the time, though, he’s busy entertaining the amazed child with his Spiderman-like crouches, handstands, and back flips. Occasionally, a child surprises him.
“I know your name,” the kid will say. “It’s Peter Parker!”
“Shhhh,” Chris replies, playing along with the secret.
WITH GREAT POWER, COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
Chris never tires of bringing happiness to children. His attitude is a blessing to himself as well as to the children and his families. He’s only 19 and has dealt with a challenging condition all his life. His condition is manageable, but requires constant vigilance. That means never missing his daily exercise, medication, and treatment regimen. It means annual hospital stays and at age 21, it will mean having to worry about paying for all that. His medications alone currently cost $17,000 a month.
“And that’s on a good month,” Chris said.
For now, insurance covers the bulk of the expense but that coverage will end when he’s 21. Chris isn’t worried about the future. He knows better. He has learned to take life one day at a time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have dreams. His big one is to start a foundation similar to Make-A-Wish, featuring Spiderman.
When Chris first learned he had the disease at about age 7, he cried most of the night because he feared he would die. As he got older, his expectations changed. He thought he would be lucky to get out of high school. As of today there is no cure for cystic fibrosis, but researchers are making constant advances with treatments and medications. With these advancements, life expectancies have jumped from teens to forties and now all the way to retirement age.
“It’s definitely jumped up a lot,” Chris said. “I’m still here, so I guess they were right.”
By Loretta Fulton
Photography By Shayli Anne Photography