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MDA Event Has Special Meaning for New-Dad Rudolph

MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Rudolph's supporting cast recently helped him flex his support for children fighting muscular dystrophy.

Flanked by his wife, Jordan, and twin daughters, Finley Claire and Andersyn Kate, the Rudolphs were proud supporters of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the organization's sixth annual MDA Minnesota Muscle Team Gala on Nov. 15.

The Vikings tight end, who became a first-time father in October, has attended the event since 2011. But Rudolph admitted this year's event meant a little something extra now that he has kids of his own.

"Seeing the struggles and challenges that some of these parents have, they have to adapt their everyday lives to accommodate a chair or a child that has muscle disease, we have to kind of take a step back and realize how lucky we are," Rudolph said. "Our biggest challenge is fitting a double-wide stroller through a single(-wide) door.

"We don't have to worry about getting a wheelchair or child out of a vehicle, so it definitely makes us realize how fortunate we are," he added.

Rudolph was joined by Vikings quarterback Taylor Heinicke, plus a handful of Vikings alumni that included as Tyrone Carter, Bob Lurtsema and Rickey Young. 

They were among hundreds who turned out for the annual event, which raises money and awareness so that those with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and other muscle diseases can go to summer camp each year in Maple Lake.

The gala included a silent auction during which autographed Vikings memorabilia was up for grabs. There was also a live auction, with the hot item being a piece of artwork by Rudolph's MVP Buddy, 11-year-old Luke Hennessy of Prior Lake.

Luke's painting, which was created by the wheels of his motorized chair, earned a $1,000 bid.

"It was fun making it with my mom," Luke said. "It's a path to a cure. You start off small and then it gets big and then it keeps going and going and then you find a cure."

Rudolph and Luke have been buddies since 2011. Rudolph said he continues to be amazed at Luke's perseverance and strength while battling SMA.

"To think now he's almost a teenager, when we first started he was a 6-year-old kid who was extremely shy and pretty quiet," Rudolph said. "Now he's the light of the room and the energy of the party."

Luke and his father, Tom, echoed the bond that has formed between the professional player and determined boy over the years. The Hennessy family spent a portion of Tuesday night meeting Rudolph's twin girls.

"This event is all about family and coming together and helping each other out," Tom Hennessy said. "Kyle has been a part of this from the beginning, so to see him have his own family is a great thing.

"Both he and Jordan are such great people," he added.

Luke, who likes video games, reading and math, said: "I like to see him because he's my buddy and I really care for him. And he's on my fantasy football team, so I've gotten some points."

Tom Hennessy said that recent SMA research has given Luke the possibility of undergoing therapy as early as 2017. The Hennessys hope a cure is on the horizon.

"I haven't given up on the dream of him someday walking," Tom Hennessy said. "But even if we can see enough improvement in his strength that would allow him some independence, that would be a great step forward, too."

"Those kind of research projects because of events like this, because of people like Kyle and all the other people that come out and support this cause," he added. "Everyone out here tonight is trying to make a positive difference."

Rudolph said he'll continue to be there every step of the way.

"To actually see that we've made progress and that they are coming up with things that will help these kids hopefully one day get up from their chairs … I've felt like we've been on the journey with them these last six years," he said.

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