EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson’s willingness to make a difference knows no bounds.
The Minnesota Vikings superstar running back did everything he could to lead the team into the playoffs, and Monday evening, he was making a difference in another way by calling a cancer-stricken New York teen in response to a Twitter campaign by the teen’s friends.
Shortly after packing up for the offseason, Peterson called Blake Cognata, a Fairport, N.Y., high school senior who is in the hospital with a rare form of cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) that strikes the bones. Peterson called about 90 minutes after Cognata’s friends started pushing the #APCallBlake hashtag on Twitter.
“He’s not really taking visitors or anything,” said Dylan George, a 2011 graduate of Fairport High School who started the hashtag that ended up with Peterson’s call. “I talked to his (Cognata’s) sister this morning, who I graduated with, and she said he was ecstatic about it and pretty much just glowing.”
Cognata, a Vikings and Peterson fan, was forced to stop playing football and lacrosse because of the disease.
“It was just the most amazing thing,” Blake’s mother, Diane Calcagno, told the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle about the call.
According to the paper, Cognata was diagnosed with the disease on Feb. 1 and was nearing the end of his chemotherapy when he started to feel pain in his shoulder in October. Doctors discovered the cancer had spread, and he was hospitalized Saturday night.
“It’s in just about every bone he has,” his mother told the paper.
Cognata, though, continued to follow Peterson and his 2,000-yard season closely.
“If you know Blake, you know he’s a Vikings fan,” said George, who is connected to Cognata through mutual friends. George, now a sophomore at The College at Brockport, recalled a similar situation in December in which New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow called an Albany, N.Y., teenager who was involved in a car crash following a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #TebowCallMatt that trended nationally.
Knowing the support Cognata was receiving within the community, especially via Twitter, George believed there was a good chance of getting the campaign to work.
“I was very happy, very surprised by it,” George said of his reaction to hearing Peterson had called less than two hours after George’s initial tweet. “It does show that someone that big, making that much money, that’s on every Sunday can take a couple of minutes out of his day to make a kid’s life that much better. It definitely says something about athletes, and he’s a good role model for future athletes.”
Peterson, named the Vikings’ Ed Block Courage Award winner this season, has said he hopes his recovery from major knee surgery has inspired others. But he’s also taken the time to inspire with his words and time. Twice this season, Peterson met with Make-A-Wish program participants.
In October, Dakota Sharp, an 18-year-old from Oklahoma going through cancer treatments met Peterson at the team’s facilities. In December, Peterson visited with Anthony Cartier, a 5-year-old from Michigan who needs a heart transplant. Peterson has also spent time with Jack Jablonski, a Minnesota teen who was paralyzed playing hockey.
“A call from Adrian Peterson, that person will never forget that the rest of their lives,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said when he heard about Peterson’s latest outreach. “And it has a chance to change their lives. He understands his role, unlike some guys who say, ‘Well, I’m not a role model’ or shy away from the impact they can have. He understands that. He gets it.”
Frazier recalled earlier in the season when Peterson took time to call University of Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint following a devastating ankle injury that ruined Toussaint’s season. Peterson was connected with Toussaint through coaches.
“Out of his busy schedule, gets the guy’s phone number and calls him has a long lengthy conversation with him just about dealing with injury and what’s life going to be like when you don’t play,” Frazier said. “He’s just rare in that way. He cares about people. He cares about people and that’s unique when you’re talking about superstars.”
According to the paper, Cognata was in a deep sleep induced by pain medication before the call and had a 104 fever. But somehow he was awake when the call came.
“Blake answered his phone and he was so cute it was like, ‘Helllloooo?’ ” his mother told the paper. “Then he said, ‘Can I ask who’s calling? For real? Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you called me.’ “