Posted: May 12, 2005 10:30 am EST

Colts' Manning encourges healthy lifestyle (~20 col. in.)
by Pedro Velazco, The Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune
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    By Pedro Velazco
    CNHI News Service

    KOKOMO, Ind. — Peyton Manning played to a small crowd Wednesday.
    The Indianapolis Colts quarterback, accustomed to playing in sold out stadiums, was the featured attraction at the St. Joseph Hospital Active Kid’s Day In Memorial Gym.
    There, he spoke to and spent time playing with a group of about 30 underprivileged children as an effort to lead elementary-age kids toward healthier lifestyles.
    In about two hours, Manning talked to the kids en masse, did a quick tour with print and radio reporters, hung out with the kids as they went through a series of physical games, and posed for pictures.
    “We’re sort of promoting healthy lifestyle habits and staying active and trying to eat right,” Manning said. “We’re going to have some games and some fun. There have been a lot of studies and research — the more active you are, the more energy you have, the better you’re going to do in school.
    “We have some children here that don’t have life easy. So we’re trying to brighten up their days and lives a little bit so hopefully we’ll come away with a lot of fun and these kids can remember this for a long time.”
    To that end, each kid was partnered with a student-mentor from Kokomo, Taylor, Western, Northwestern or Eastern high schools. Together, the pairs went through a series of games, including a turn throwing a football through hula hoops with Manning egging them on, instructing, or horsing around with each kid in turn.
    Volunteers and Kokomo’s cheerleaders helped with the activities.
    “I think I have more fun than the kids do, I really do. The idea is for the kids, but I really enjoy it,” Manning said.
    To illustrate, he quickly went through his day’s routine of workouts, which can narrow his vision to just his day job. “When you do this, it kind of keeps things in perspective for you.”
    Taylor High School football player Jason Maple was clearly having fun as one of the student-mentors, playing around with his younger trustee and those around them. He tried to ensure that the kids got a healthy dose of fun to help understand the point of the day.
    “They learn about staying active and being healthy, and they learn about interacting with other kids,” said Maple, an offensive and defensive lineman with the Titans.
    “It was just a fun kind of experience. Yeah, we got to meet Peyton Manning, but it’s also nice to help to give back to the less fortunate than us. We brought in canned foods, and I brought in a shirt for one of my kids to have. And it’s just fun to help out people that don’t have as much.”
    Manning has been aligned with the St. Vincent Health system since shortly after he arrived in Indianapolis as a rookie. As part of his partnership, he makes a handful of appearances per year at events like the one Wednesday in Kokomo, does public service announcements for the group, and has donated special rooms to the St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. In turn, St. Vincent lends support to his charitable organization, the Payback Foundation.
    Sister Catherine Kelly, vice president of St. Joseph Hospital, summed up the day’s key points.
    “It was our intent to be able to introduce some of the kids in our community, especially the more disadvantaged kids, the concept of good health — taking care of yourself, eating right, sleeping well, getting some exercise, being good students, and having kind of a spiritual sense of their life, the sense of values in their life,” Kelly said.
    The event was part of the hospital group’s Cover The Uninsured Week, and also served to raise awareness of juvenile diabetes and obesity, as well as letting the kids know that they are surrounded by people who care.
    “We would have had [Wednesday’s active day] with or without [Manning] but when he was able to come it just made it so much better for us,” Kelly said.
    “Many of
    these kids will never see him play football down at the stadium, and they might see him on television, but to just kind of hang out with him for a couple of hours, helped them to realize who the good guys are. Not only Peyton as a real star in our Indianapolis community, but even the cheerleading squad and the student-athletes we have around here.”
    The chance to reach kids makes it worthwhile for Manning.
    “I don’t preach that I do everything the right way, but I do know that being the quarterback right now for the Colts, you do have a platform where you can, hopefully, [help]; if you affect one kid in here, then that’s a touchdown, that’s a win,”
    Manning said.

    Pedro Velazco writes for The Kokomo, Ind., Tribune.

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