Working out with an NFL star in South Jersey

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco (center), an Audubon native, leads the charity workout in Cherry Hill.
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco (center), an Audubon native, leads the charity workout in Cherry Hill. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 04, 2013

When Julie Weikart's aunt informed her a couple weeks ago that her hero, Joe Flacco, quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens and a South Jersey favored son, was doing a charity workout with kids, she could barely e-mail back fast enough.

"I said, 'I'll be there! Just sign me up as fast as you can!'" Weikart recalled.

And when the 15-year-old ponytailed football aficionado heard that the youngster who raised the most money would get to partner with Flacco during the workout, she hit the ground running:

She held a muffin sale, sold some of her clothes, and cleaned pews along with other chores at her minister mother's church.

Sunday, a beaming Weikart took her place beside the towering football star to a chorus of cheers at Evolution Fitness in Cherry Hill. She had raised $644.

But, really, there were many winners.

Flacco, 28, an Audubon native who has homes in Haddonfield and Baltimore, and Evolution Fitness, the gym Flacco and his wife, Dana, use in the off-season, had teamed up to raise funds for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Fifty excited children between the ages of 8 and 15 got to jump, twist, turn, lunge and sweat along with one of the highest-paid players in football. The minimum donation to qualify for the privilege was $20, but participants had been encouraged to raise additional funds through family and friends.

Between the money the kids raised, the sale of a group photograph taken before the workout and proceeds from smoothie shakes - Purple Berry in honor of the Ravens or Banana Nut Blast, Flacco's favorite - the event took in $3,500, according to organizers.

Flacco was quick to agree to take part, said the gym's co-owner Helena Duzenski, 34, adding that Evolution Fitness has done other fund-raisers, including one for Hurricane Sandy victims.

"We try to give back," she said.

Flacco, a low-key kind of guy who has been known to give more time to charity than pursuing high-profile product endorsements, said the people at CHOP "do a great job," and he liked the idea of this event - "little kids helping little kids out."

Flacco is a father, too. His son, Stephen, turns 1 in a little over a week, and Flacco and his wife are expecting a second child in September. He doesn't change diapers, he admitted, but otherwise as far as being a dad goes, "I love it."

He said he also likes being able to put a smile on the faces of kids like those at the fund-raiser.

"We were all these kids at one point," he said. "We all had dreams."

Dameal Rudolph, 11, of Camden said he wanted to come "because I'm real into football. I've been playing football since I was like 5. I'm really into this."

Madison Bradley, 12, of Haddon Township came to get Flacco's autograph on the helmet she won in January when she was the best girl in her age group in the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick contest.

Until several years ago, her family lived in Audubon, said father Mason Bradley, 50, who owns a travel company.

Flacco "grew up on the same street as us in Audubon," he said. "I went to school with his parents."

Soccer-playing twins Natalie and Alex Kaczynski, 15, of Medford worked out Sunday, too.

Their dad Ted , 49, who teaches public speaking at Rowan University, used to be a Ravens season-ticket holder until his kids' soccer took precedence. And he said all three of his kids have been treated at one time or other at CHOP.

A little after 12:30 p.m., the workout got going. After some warm-up moves, gym co-owner Brian Kane pumped up the intensity, as kids of various sizes in T-shirts of various teams - quite a few of them purple - did their best to keep up. What they lacked in symmetry, they made up for in effort. And besides, it was an exercise drill, not a chorus line.

Now and then, Flacco gazed down to say a word or two to his partner, Weikart, who came to a few inches below his shoulder.

"He's really nice," the Gateway Regional High School freshman said during a water break. "He's funny."

He said things like "good job," while they tried not to bump into each other, Weikart said.

"I said, 'Don't worry. I'm really short so if you bump into me, it'll probably go over my head,'" said the Wenonah teenager.

"He's like the nicest guy," said Pam Dougherty of Haddonfield, Weikart's aunt who was behind making the meeting between her niece and a football star happen.

When she heard about the opportunity, Dougherty said she thought of Weikart right away. She paid the $20 to register her, but said the teen raised the rest of the $644 on her own.

Was it worth all the work?

Weikart smiled broadly:

"It's awesome."

Contact staff member Rita Giordano at 856-779-3893, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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