A heart of gold

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

It didn't get any publicity, but sometimes the best stories are the ones that happen away from the public eye.

That's certainly how Cindy Klassen intended her visit to a handful of kids at Ronald McDonald House the other day.

In town for a whirlwind, one-day visit on Tuesday, her first trip home since the Turin Olympics, Klassen found time to spend part of the afternoon with people like 12-year-old Nicholas Wiedenhoeft.

Wiedenhoeft has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and type-1 diabetes. He's also blind.

"He wasn't supposed to live past two," his mother, Nikki, was saying yesterday. "The fact he made it to 12 is miraculous."

He's also one of the few 12-year-olds to wear an Olympic gold medal, thanks to Klassen's visit.

Nicholas isn't able to express it, but his mom says he was absolutely thrilled.

"He definitely knew Cindy was there," Nikki said. "She touched his hand and put her arm around him, and hung the medal around his neck to make sure he knew she was there."

Nicholas's little sister, Callahan, sure knew about Klassen's speed skating exploits.

Nearly five, Callahan watched the Olympics, where the Winnipegger made Canadian history by winning five medals.

"She was trying to impress Cindy, doing laps around Ronald McDonald House as fast as she could," Nikki said of her daughter.

Callahan can't wait to get back to school next week to tell all her friends she met the real Cindy Klassen and wore the real gold medal.

She nearly brought her mom to tears yesterday, suggesting Cindy might be able to get her disabled brother into the next Olympics.

"Even Nicholas could win a medal if she pushed him in his wheelchair on the ice really, really fast!" Callahan said.

The kid spent a good part of yesterday afternoon in training, pushing her brother around their Fort Frances, Ont., home, convinced that if they replaced the wheels on his chair with skates, and if dad were pushing, Nicholas could be "as fast as Cindy."

The Wiedenhoefts have to make regular trips from Fort Frances to Winnipeg to get medical attention for Nicholas.

On this trip, they had no idea they'd meet Klassen, and no idea they'd be so blown away by her.

The skater laughed and played with the kids and talked with the parents for a good hour, cutting into her limited time with her own family.

"She didn't hurry us at all," Nikki said. "She just kept hanging around. Her heart was there, for sure. You could tell."

Klassen also signed the Team Canada sweatshirt Nikki happened to be wearing, taking the time to write down the name of all three of her kids, including 1 1/2-year-old Christian.

Klassen didn't go away empty-handed, either, as all the kids presented her with a poster covered in their hand- and footprints.

Sounds like everybody got something out of the day, nobody more-so than Nicholas.

"As parents of a little boy who will never have the chance to live a real Olympic dream, having the chance to meet an Olympic hero and hold her medal and her hand was just as good," Nikki said. "She is not only an Olympic champion on the ice, but she is a champion of the heart, too, and at the end of the day that is what is most important."

Klassen didn't intend to do any interviews about her secret visit, so I didn't press to get one.

What she did said it all.


Photos