Adam Thielen learned ropes of giving back from Vikings players before him
Adam and Caitlin Thielen started the Thielen Foundation in 2018 and have donated more than $2.5M to various organizations.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Thinking back to when he was a young player breaking into the NFL, Adam Thielen still has vivid memories of going to community events throughout the Twin Cities.
Whether it was attending a charity outing put on by former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, or visiting the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital with former Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, Thielen remembers wanting to follow in their footsteps.
“There were so many guys that really kind of paved the way to say, ‘This is how it’s done,’ ” Thielen said. “I remember going to their events as a young player and hearing some of the people they’ve impacted get up and talk. It was in those moments I was like, man, hopefully I get the platform and the resources to be able to do similar things.”
Now a decade into his improbable NFL career, the 32-year-old Minnesota native has the platform and the resources, and he’s using it to make a difference. He started the Thielen Foundation with his wife Caitlin in 2018 and together they have donated more than $2.5 million to various organizations throughout the Twin Cities.
That helped Thielen become the team’s 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. The official announcement came Tuesday, and the winner of the prestigious award will be announced on the Thursday leading up to Super Bowl LVII.
“It’s not me as an individual,” Thielen said. “It’s a collective effort of a lot of guys in this locker room that have done the work to deserve an award like this.”
The mission statement of the Thielen Foundation references empowering youth in Minnesota to reach their full potential in life. It’s intentionally broad because when the Thielens started they weren’t sure which direction they wanted to take it.
“We knew that we were very passionate about youth,” Thielen said. “We felt at that age that things can be very impactful.”
It’s reached new heights since then, impacting more children than they can count.
“It’s unbelievable where it’s gone and how it’s impacted some of these kids,” Thielen said. “I think moving forward we can continue to build on things that we’ve seen make a bigger impact and try to continue to grow.”
Looking back on it now, Thielen sometimes still can’t believe where life has taken him. Everyone knows the story at this point.
Coming from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, he was undrafted out of Minnesota State Mankato. He came to the Vikings on a rookie tryout and spent a full season on the practice squad. He made the team as a special-teams ace, proved himself as a starter, and developed into a dominant, sure-handed receiver in the league.
Now he’s among the best players in Vikings franchise history, and almost certainly will retire having played his whole career with his home-state team.
“We feel like we’ve been blessed to have this platform that we probably weren’t supposed to have,” Thielen said. “We feel that when we’ve been blessed that way, we need to give back in a major way because we’re so thankful for where we’re at.”
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