Peyton's lasting impression

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

It's amazing the effect a sports hero can have on kids.

Some athletes realize it, some don't.

Then there are those who embrace it, like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

Probably the NFL's most recognizable star, and certainly its most marketable, Manning passed through Winnipeg yesterday to speak at a charity fundraiser attended by more than 1,600 people who paid good money to see him at the Convention Centre.

He also thrilled some folks down at the University of Manitoba, where Bison football coach Brian Dobie found him an indoor field for his daily workout.

But you can bet nobody will remember Manning's visit more than the two kids whose lives he touched.

Ryan Veldkamp is a 12-year-old who played football for the North Winnipeg Nomads last year.

This season, Veldkamp will be on the sidelines, fighting a much bigger battle. His opponent: leukemia.

Looking at him yesterday, you couldn't tell he's getting almost daily chemotherapy treatments, because a one-on-one meeting with Manning left a smile on his face.

"It was awesome," Veldkamp said.

So awesome he had trouble sleeping the night before.

Then there's Zane Sawatzky, a nine-year-old Colts fanatic who showed up at the Convention Centre wearing his No. 18 Manning jersey, hoping he'd get a picture, an autograph, anything.

Sure enough, Manning took the time to pose for a photo, even shook the kid's left hand, which rendered it virtually useless for the rest of the day.

"Right now I'm just holding the phone with the other hand," Zane told me via his dad's cell a couple hours later. "I just came from football and I tried to use just my one hand. But that didn't work too well."

Needless to say, the speedy running back from the Bengals flag football team wasn't going to wash that hand last night, no matter what mom or dad said. Or the next day, for that matter.

"Maybe the day after that," Zane said.

Eventually, the thing will be wiped clean. The memory, though? That's embedded for life.

For Manning, it's just a tiny sample of his work with kids, whether it's through his PeyBack Foundation or the Project 18, the healthy-living program he recently started to get children more active in Indianapolis.

Ask why he does it, and he points to the example set by his dad, Archie, who's done the same thing in New Orleans, the city that gave him his NFL career.

"That's the giving back part that my dad taught me," Manning said. "So when I was drafted by the Colts, I built my home there, lived there year-round and committed to the city, as well."

A communications major at the University of Tennessee, Manning might do half a dozen speaking engagements a year.

"I enjoy the speaking part of it," Manning said. "Share some thoughts on leadership, on football anecdotes that tie into the real world, and at the same time raise money for a cause that's helping out people that don't have life so easy, whether it's disadvantaged youth or cultural or sporting programs."

His appearance here, yesterday, his first in Canada -- for the Rady Jewish Community Centre -- just happened to fit his busy schedule.

He'd never been to Winnipeg before, and may never be back.

For a couple of kids, though, he's sticking around for life.


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