A Dad Transformed Kids With Disabilities Into Superheroes, Showing Their True Strength

"I wanted to inspire young kids... going through the same thing to have hope."

Josh Rossi may seem like a regular dad, but he's got superhuman skills when it comes to creating larger-than-life pictures. In February, the commercial photographer made headlines for transforming his daughter Nelee into Belle from Beauty and the Beast in one seriously magical photoshoot. 

Now, he's back with another photoshoot, this time inspired by superheroes and their real-life counterparts: children who not only live with disabilities, but fight to overcome them every day.

Like Rossi's Disney princess photoshoot, this one also began with Nelee. After he transformed her into Wonder Woman for another photoshoot that went viral, Rossi received calls from many families, specifically those with children living with cancer and other disabilities. During those calls, Rossi told A Plus, "They [the parents] would just tell me that they thought their kid was like Wonder Woman or Superman because of what they'd been through." 

That inspired Rossi to find "the real Justice League" made up of "really strong" kids whose perceived weaknesses could be, with just a little help from costumes and Photoshop, showcased as their greatest strengths. 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi

Rossi's wife, Roxana, produced the photoshoot and helped him match each child with a respective superhero that had overcome similar obstacles. For example, a little boy named Kayden was matched up with Cyborg. "The actual superhero got in a really bad accident, and his head was the only thing that survived. His dad kept him alive by adding prosthetics to him and robotic parts," Rossi explained. 

"And so [there was] a similar story with one of the kids... In the womb, he had organs on the outside of his body, and so doctors told the mom they should abort him... but the mom decided to save him." When Kayden was born, he underwent many surgeries and had both his legs amputated. "Now, he has prosthetics, and so we just thought it'd be perfect to put him in as Cyborg," Rossi concluded. "We turn their weaknesses into strengths." 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi

Another child, Zaiden, with severe ADHD was going through a difficult time after he'd been kicked out of school and his friends had stopped inviting him to parties. "At some point, his mom said that she saw the light go out of his eyes," Rossi recalled. Because he had difficulty sitting still, the little boy loved running. Naturally, that inspired Rossi to turn him into The Flash. 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi

The child chosen for Superman, Teagan, was born with half a heart, as well as some other medical problems, and so had to go through multiple surgeries at a young age as well. According to Rossi, the kid "really related with Superman" even before the photoshoot, because "they both have one weakness." (Superman's weakness is Kryptonite.)  

Courtesy: Josh Rossi

Due to the significance of each child's personal connection to their superhero, "It was a pretty emotional shoot," Rossi said. "Some of the kids showed me the scars they have on their chests." Teagan, for example, seemed "like a healthy kid" to Rossi, until he pull off part of his Superman costume. "He has scars all over his body. It just hit me again. It was sort of like shock, realizing this actually happens, but also realizing how strong these kids are." 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi - Josh Rossi with Taegan (Superman) and Simon (Batman) 

The photoshoot was also powerful, in that it "got them [the kids] out of their reality, out of the fact that they were sick and had [radiation] therapy that week," like Sophie, the little girl who played Wonder Woman. For the photoshoot, Nelee was so excited to lend her outfit to Sophie, and the 4-year-olds even had a chance to talk on the phone about Wonder Woman. 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi

For a few hours, each child could forget about their worries, dress up in a custom-made costume, play around with some power poses, and just have fun. Superman's mom told Rossi, "This was the third best day of his life." 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi

But the fun didn't end just because the photoshoot did. The kids were able to take home their costumes, the majority of which were created and donated by Julie Whiteley and normally would've cost around $10,000. Then, a few weeks later, Rossi sent each of the children a large print of the final Photoshop-enhanced picture. 

Courtesy: Josh Rossi 

Unsurprisingly, the kids were all overwhelmed with joy at seeing their super-selves. "I still don't even think I realized how rewarding it is. I was just blown away," Rossi said of the children's reactions. "I was doing it for them; I didn't realize how big of an effect it would have on them." Kayden, also known as Cyborg, immediately put his picture up in his room, where he then stared at it for hours. His mom told Rossi, "I think it's because he sees himself standing up straight and standing up with confidence." Because he'd never seen himself like that, the picture "had a really big impact" on him, as well as all the other families.

Courtesy: Josh Rossi 

And Rossi hopes his photo series will have just as big an impact on everyone who sees it, especially other children. "I wanted to inspire young kids... going through the same thing to have hope," he said. Rossi also aims to increase awareness of not only childhood disabilities and diseases, but the ways everyone can help. 

"A lot of people think you have to have a ton of money to help out kids or it's all about donations... [but] putting out a series like this to inspire others to maybe get out of their comfort zone," he said. Everyone, Rossi believes, "can help out in their own way." As he and these kids prove, you certainly don't have to be a superhero to act like one. 


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