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Little Glen Allen girl with leukemia gets a big backyard surprise

Posted at 4:53 PM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 21:09:23-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Brendan Manning took a shot at building his kids a swing set himself in their Glen Allen backyard. It didn’t work out so well.

“Every time the kids got on it, it would rock out of the concrete I put it in,” Manning said.

So when he was asked if his five children would like one installed by professionals, he jumped at the chance.

The offer came from an unusual place.

In June 2020, his youngest daughter Sophie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

During one of her treatments at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, one of the medical people mentioned a program being offered in conjunction with Richmond Raceway and the NASCAR Foundation.

“NASCAR is doing things in markets all over the country, like these playset builds, in 15 different markets,” Raceway president Dennis Bickmeier said. “So it’s pretty cool to be one of the markets selected for sure.”

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The Raceway got Sophie and her parents out of their Glen Allen home for most of the day, taking laps at the track and making a trip to Dave and Buster’s so a crew from Quality Building could put the set together as a surprise.

Despite some rain showers throughout the day, they pulled it off.

“It just turned out to be such a great fit,” Bickmeier said. “It wasn’t a pre-requisite, but they’re big NASCAR fans as well!”

Sophie will turn 5 on September 14, and the family has created a Facebook page to chronicle her journey titled “SophieStrong.” It includes other acts of generosity and kindness like this one, which have been a big surprise for the Mannings.

“To see what people do and the things they do for children, it’s just amazing,” Brendan Manning said. “It’s brightened her eyes to see the things that have taken place in front of her. It makes us just want to go out and do things for others as well.”

“As much joy as that brought them, it was equally rewarding for everyone that pitched in," Bickmeier added. "We all just hung out for a while and we didn’t want to leave because it was great to watch that joy we experience so often in sports be shared by her and her family."