Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Locals support Tripp Halstead by signing a get well card for him at the Arena at Gwinnett Center Duluth Thursday. Those who attended got a sneak peak at Lightning McQueen prior to the Disney On Ice presents "Worlds of Fantasy" show. Halstead, 2, was critically injured in October when a large tree branch fell on his head while he played outside his Barrow County daycare.
DULUTH — He used to tote the toy around all day at day care, so on the night of the accident that changed Tripp Halstead’s life, his teacher made sure she brought the tiny Lightning McQueen car to the hospital to give the 2-year-old some comfort.
On Thursday, classmates got to meet a closer-to-life-size version of the star of the animated “Cars” franchise, and they hoped that Tripp would be well enough for a private visit.
The red race car wheeled onto the plaza in front of the Gwinnett Center a few hours before his feature performance in Disney on Ice’s presentation of “Worlds of Fantasy,” greeting kids from Tripp’s day care, who have been praying for the boy since a tree limb fell on him at the Winder facility six months ago.
Cole McKeehan, 4, noticed that Lightning McQueen sported the same thunder bolt as his “Team Boom” T-shirt, which he wore in support of his friend.
“I say the blessing, and I say, ‘God is great; God is good. Let us thank him for our food, and Trippie get better. Amen,” McKeehan said, giving an abbreviated version of the prayer that kids at Cribs 2 Crayons say for the boy each day.
“He loves ‘Cars.’ That’s no secret,” day care owner Connie Wilbanks said as she stood in line with her students to sign a get well card for Tripp, who is now recovering at home after spending more than five months in the hospital.
She said the kids were excited to celebrate the event and get golden tickets to Thursday’s show. But most of all, the event was about showing support for the boy, who is still facing therapy and other health issues after the traumatic brain injury.
“You take every day as a gift and you never take life for granted because it’s precious,” Wilbanks said of the lesson she has learned with the incident.
Crystal Drake, a spokeswoman for the traveling show, said the toddler’s story has touched many. With his love of Lightning McQueen, show officials wanted to do something special for the boy and hoped his health would allow him to come out to meet his favorite character.
“It’s a fun way to reach out,” she said.
For Cole’s dad, Chris, signing the card to send a message of support to Tripp and his parents Bill and Stacy Halstead is important.
“You always think about that phone call coming in. ... Anything can happen,” McKeehan said. “I would want people to support me, if it was (Cole).”
Megan Molhar agreed, as she watched her daughters, dressed as Cinderella for the occasion.
“I try to do everything I can because it helps them. They need that,” said Molhar, whose younger daughter Abigail Meeks was in Tripp’s class. “Anyone who goes through that needs support from family and friends.”
The Disney on Ice “Worlds of Fantasy” presentation will continue through the weekend. For ticket information, go to GwinnettCenter.com.