Pennsylvania college student runs and bikes to help those in need

.- Sylvan Pinto IV biked 301 miles from West Newton, Pa., to Washington, D.C., biked 15 miles on another trip and ran 37 miles to help Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg defray medical costs for people in need.

A parishioner of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Greenburg, Pa., Pinto contacted Catholic Charities when he was 16 and a sophomore at Hempfield Area High School.

An avid runner, Pinto, now 20, wanted to "put a reason behind running" and help others. He got the idea after reading the book, "Ultramarathon Man," about a man who helped save people’s lives by running. The runner logged 200 miles to help pay for a liver transplant for one person and a heart transplant for another.

"It made me think I could do something to help people. I figured I could do it on my own, but it wouldn’t be as special if I didn’t help someone," said Pinto, an elementary education major who will be a junior this fall at Robert Morris University, Moon Township.

Pinto is on RMU’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams.

Pinto’s first run was 22 miles for families in Greensburg and Johnstown. The Greensburg family’s youngest son, 17 months old at the time and deaf, needed cochlear implants. Pinto raised $2,500, all of which went to defray medical costs.

He also raised the same amount for the Johnstown family, whose 8-year-old child was born with childhood arthritis, and for a girl in Indiana who needed reconstructive facial surgery after being in a vehicle accident when she was 5 years old.

When he biked to Washington this past May 22-26, he raised $2,500 for a 13-year-old and his father from Indian Head. In 2009, the 13-year-old was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that attacks the muscle and bone connection tissue. Later that year, his father was diagnosed with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma, an aggressive and fast-growing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Donna Hagan, coordinator of information and referral services for Catholic Charities, told Pinto about the people who needed assistance.

As he did for the others he helped, Pinto drafted a letter explaining that the costs the Indian Head family faces are astronomical.

"All of them were shocked that I wanted to do this for them. I never met (the Indiana girl) and her mom before. It was nice when I did meet them, knowing I helped in some way," said Pinto, who tries to live up to a verse from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (9:24) that is tattooed above his right knee.

He explained its meaning: All runners run the race, but only one gets the prize. So run to win. And though his parents, Sylvan "Chip" and Diane Pinto of Greensburg, weren’t thrilled when he got the tattoo, he promised it would be his last.

Msgr. Raymond E. Riffle, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish and managing director of Catholic Charities, is impressed with what Pinto has done.

"In this day and age when young people get so some much bad press about irresponsibility, it’s refreshing to see a young man step up, where his efforts and actions help other people who are really very open to his help and appreciative of what he has done," Msgr. Riffle said.

He explained Pinto wasn’t "picky" about who he helped. He merely wanted to help.

"That is commendable," Msgr. Riffle said about Pinto’s "openness to help whoever needed it."

Printed with permission from The Catholic Accent, newspaper for the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa.

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