He wears a pink Tony Hawk skateboarding shirt. A Tony Hawk poster hangs over his bed, where Tony Hawk logos adorn the pillow cases. Skateboards wait in the living room, ready to go.
"I just met Tony Hawk," Ja'Markus Poole says, smiling.
He looks and acts like a typical 12-year-old, more interested in sports video games than adult conversation. He stares intently at the screen, excited that he just threw two strikes to the batter.
Two years ago the Tampa native was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that leaves him short of breath and unable to play contact sports. Once a day, he uses a breathing machine to clear his lungs. People with cystic fibrosis often don't live past their 30s.
"It hasn't soaked in because he is a child," said his mother, Angel Shackleford-LeCount.
Ja'Markus attends Bishop-Eton School. But now that he's on summer break, he practices skateboarding up to five times a week. It's his favorite sport.
That's why, when people from the Make-A-Wish Foundation came to his house and told him to think big, he brought up Tony Hawk, the legendary professional skateboarder who has his own series of video games.
The grown-ups had asked Ja'Markus to list three things he wanted to do. His third choice: a shopping spree. His second choice: Walt Disney World. His first choice: to meet Hawk.
A year later, his mother learned the good news.
On June 23, Ja'Markus, his four siblings, Jaquan LeCount, 12, Kaitlyn Shackleford, 7, Javin LeCount, 3, Lovelee LeCount, 2, their mother, 28, and her husband, Cludner LeCount, 31, all left their home in Old Seminole Heights and boarded a plane to San Diego.
The next day, they climbed into a limo. It wasn't until Ja'Markus entered a private skate park at Hawk's San Diego-area headquarters that he knew something big was about to happen.
"I was pretty impressed," Ja'Markus said.
Hawk had invited six other pro skateboarders to perform for the family. Ja'Markus watched Hawk and friends do tricks.
Best of all, he had a chance to take to the ramps with Hawk.
"Tony kept telling him he could do it," his mother said. "That he'd fall sometimes but he had to just get back up. He gave him the push and encouragement that he needed to keep trying."
Afterward, they had a pizza party and Ja'Markus got to play against Hawk in a sneak preview of the video game, Tony Hawk: Ride, due to be released in October.
Hawk brought the boy into his office and the two competed on flat-screen televisions.
"I did a triple kick flip and he was mad because he couldn't do it," Ja'Markus said, giggling as he remembered. "I made him fall onto the ground. He said I hurt him."
Hawk signed bookbags, photographs and skateboards for the family. Ja'Markus, his father, brothers and sisters all received autographed Birdhouse brand skateboards.
"Watching what they were doing for my child, it being all for him and having us there to share in it was special for everyone," his mother said.
The family spent the next day at the San Diego Zoo, where Ja'Markus saw an animal he hadn't seen before: a polar bear.
"It was swimming around," he said.
Back at his hotel room, he wrote Hawk a thank-you letter and included two gifts, a shirt that said "Florida" on it and a religious book, Learn from the Great Teacher.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation and ESPN sponsored the entire trip for the family. A program about Ja'Markus and Hawk airs at 6 tonight as part of 2009 edition of the SportsCenter's "My Wish" series.
"I want to thank them for making my wish come true," Ja'Markus said.
Staff writer Stephanie Bolling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3408.