During his first NFL season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen and his wife, Caitlin, knew they wanted to use Adam's platform to give back to the youth, beginning in the areas that impacted them. Adam grew up just outside of Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Caitlin grew up in Woodbury, Minn.
But they didn't know how. They went to the Masonic Children's Hospital at the University of Minnesota and asked what children are overlooked or could use some help. They were taken on a tour of the behavior health unit.
"We instantly felt a connection," Adam said.
Adam remembers the days when he was getting to meet former Vikings like Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper. Thielen still remembers Culpepper as being the nicest guy merely based off a brief interaction.
"I remember just being around a professional athlete, you were excited," Thielen said. "I didn't really care what they said or how an interaction went. It was just cool to be around them and have a little bit of interaction."
But most of the kids Adam and Caitlin met with at the behavior health unit did not know who Adam was. The children were surprised someone was sitting and listening to them. That's why Adam and Caitlin started the nonprofit Thielen Foundation eight months ago.
"It was probably the most impactful thing that has happened in our lives just as far as motivational," Adam said. "We literally just sat around in a group with these kids and just talked."
On Wednesday, at 1 Million Cups, a weekly event that aims to connect and encourage local entrepreneurs, at The Stage at Island Park, the two spoke about the goals of the foundation to around 400 people.
"Our main thing is to help youth reach their full potential," Adam said. "We kind of made it broad because we want to impact youth because we feel that's a very important thing in today's society. The more we can impact the youth, they're going to grow up and they're going to impact their kids and things like that. Trying to help kids that don't have the resources, the opportunities we had growing up."
"We always dreamed of this," Caitlin said.
The two announced Wednesday that they are teaming with a high school in the Twin Cities area to help get kids into sports. They didn't announce which high school, but said they are hoping to reach more schools later.
"Sports were so important to my wife and I," Adam said. "We want to give that opportunity to kids if they don't have that or maybe they don't have the push to do that or maybe they don't have the financial means to buy equipment and to be able to join sports. Really just trying to keep it broad and trying to impact as many kids and underprivileged youth as possible."
The story of Adam Thielen has been told. He graduated from Detroit Lakes and was set to go to Concordia in Moorhead to play basketball and football before Minnesota State University-Mankato was pointed in his direction via the Minnesota All-Star football game in late June before his freshman year in college. He went to MSU-Mankato, wracked up 2,802 receiving yards, paid his way through combines, got a shot with the Vikings and now has wracked up 2,649 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons.
Adam has moved on from that story. He wants to start a new one.
"For my wife and I, we're focused on the next day, today and what we can do today," Adam said. "We don't really look too far back in the future. I think some day when I'm done playing we'll be able to reflect on things and look on those things. Right now, we're so focused on making an impact and trying to do the best we can do in our lives and in our jobs and giving back as well."
He also just received a four-year, $64 million extension with the Vikings with $35 million guaranteed in April. Minnesota is where he would like to stay.
"In this business, it doesn't happen," Adam said. "You don't stay in one place. We haven't moved. We're in our home state. We have our own home that we don't have to travel from. A lot of guys are going back and forth and doing things like that. We're very blessed, we're very fortunate. We'd love to be here our whole career, which was kind of the intention of signing an extension with two years left on the deal. We're excited about how it could play out, but in this business you never know."
It wasn't all talk about the foundation. Adam talked about how he wished the Moorhead and Detroit Lakes football teams still played against one another each year and discussed what it was like to watch the NFL playoffs last season.
"That's just the nature of this business," Adam said. "Sometimes you're gonna make it, sometimes you're not. I enjoy watching football, I enjoy watching the game and learning from it. I think you can learn a lot from these teams and why they win games and why they get to those NFC championship games, why they get to the Super Bowl and why they win the Super Bowl, so it's fun for me to kind of look at the bigger picture of why they're there and why they're winning these games or why they're running these certain plays. What are they doing that's helping them be successful and win the game."
His job may revolve around trying to get the Vikings back to the playoffs, but Adam still remembers the time when he was a kid hoping players on the Vikings would give him the time of day.
"Those are the moments I try to look back to an say it makes a big impact when somebody just spends a little bit of time," Adam said. "That's what I'm trying to do."