Meet the Finalist: Anna Martin

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Ms. Martin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when she was 10 years old. After chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and multiple medical setbacks, Anna recovered and lived cancer-free until faced with thyroid cancer during her junior year of high school.

Yet, from that first diagnosis, Anna was able to transform her fear into action. In her award-winning essay, Anna wrote that “I knew that if I survived I wanted to make an impact on the world around me. I lost so many of my friends from cancer and I am now living in their honor. It is my personal mission to give back to the hospital that saved my life and to help families who are going through that same horrible journey of cancer.”

Charged with this mission, Anna started an annual drive in 2012 to gather gift cards, gas cards, toys, and money for the oncology patients and their families at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (ETCH). In addition to raising funds and resources, she volunteers her time twice a week at ETCH playing with patients and leading fun exercises like dancing, hula hooping, or soccer in the hallways. To date, Anna has volunteered 320 hours and raised over $15,000 in gift cards and toys.

Suzanne Sherman, Ms. Martin’s teacher and school librarian, says “Anna before the diagnosis was kind, compassionate, and giving. Anna after the diagnosis was kind, compassionate, and giving but more determined than ever to make a difference in the world with those qualities and to give back to the same community that nurtured her through her treatments.”

Anna wants to continue providing support and hope within the community that nurtured her by becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Anna Martin on being named the 2019 College Scholarship First Place Recipient.

Meet the Finalist: Maya Keesey

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At age 11, Maya Keesey of McHenry, IL, began a 27 month battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Two years later, Maya faced a new unique challenge when she completed a 3.3 mile swim across Lake Geneva. While racing far from shore, Maya was reminded of journey beating cancer. In her award winning essay Maya writes, “Both cancer and the lake swim took me outside of my comfort zone, where perseverance and self-reliance were necessary. Each of these journeys helped me learn a remarkable amount about myself and realize that I can do things I never would have imagined, even when it feels like an insurmountable challenge.”

Maya discovered through these experiences that when a person offers help to others, that person is made stronger as well. Maya has strengthened herself through her fundraising and public speaking efforts within the pediatric cancer community; she has raised over $50,000, and was awarded in 2016 as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Student of the Year. Maya engages in the broader community as well through tutoring, organizing her school’s blood drive, and as member of her Student Council.

Maya’s teacher, Sandra Dwire shares, “[Maya] has shown incredible maturity and positivity throughout her journey, and every year I celebrate along with her as she marks another year of being cancer-free.”

Maya hopes to become a nurse and use her unique perspective and experiences to continue serving her community.

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Maya Keesey on being named the 2019 College Scholarship Second Place Recipient. Please stay tuned for the announcement of the first place scholarship winner coming soon.

Meet the Finalist: Cade Pinalto


Basketball meant everything to Cade Pinalto. It was his identity, his passion, his dreams. After he was diagnosed with Left Ventricular Noncompaction Cardiomyopathy, however, he could no longer play the sport he loved so deeply. Cade felt an overwhelming loss of passion, drive, identity in the years following the diagnosis.

Things quickly turned around for Cade when he was offered the position of Assistant Coach of the Varsity Basketball team. The experience felt life-changing for Cade. He was able to once again feel the thrill of basketball and the community of his team.

Cade turned this newfound insight and self-growth outward. He and his mother founded Sidelined USA, a nonprofit whose mission is to reunite permanently sidelined athletes with their passions, by providing them with meaningful resources, connections, and mentorship. Sidelined USA has also supported coaches and the sports medicine community all over the nation.

In his award winning essay, he writes, “what’s more important than just being able to overcome one’s challenges, is being able to take your transformative experiences and use them to benefit the lives of others. I feel tremendously blessed to have already experienced the joys of being able to conquer significant challenges in my life and then use those experiences to make a difference in the community.”

Cade’s impact has far transcended the basketball court. Nicholas LoGalbo - Athletic director of Lane Tech High School comments, “Cade is a beacon of light in our school community[...] The confidence that he has ascertained through his journey radiates from him and his peers gravitate toward his leadership” Cade will continue building his community at Baylor University this Fall.

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Cade Pinalto on being named the 2019 College Scholarship Honorable Mention Recipient. Please stay tuned for the announcement of Second Place Scholarship recipient coming soon.

Meet the Finalist: Bridget Llull


At the age of eight, Bridget Llull was diagnosed with scoliosis. By middle school Bridget was forced to wear a brace 20 hours a day, and by her freshman year of high school, Bridget had to undergo spinal fusion surgery. In search for support and solidarity from other young women with scoliosis, Bridget decided to form her own chapter of Curvy Girls Scoliosis in Philadelphia, PA. Now a senior at Archbishop John Carroll High School, Bridget has grown the group from 2-3 members at monthly meetings, to now reaching over 50 girls since inception.  

In her essay, Bridget wrote about the group has had on her, “I’ve met girls who really do have a significant struggle with scoliosis, such as multiple surgeries or severe mental health issues. This has shaped me to become more compassionate towards others and open about my own struggles.”

Bridget also founded and directs Embracing the Curve - an annual fashion show aimed at increasing confidence in girls, spreading scoliosis awareness and raising funds to support scoliosis research. She explains, “By dedicating my past to helping others in the future, I’ve overcome my challenge and am grateful for the struggles.” Bridget begins her studies in biomedical engineering at Catholic University this fall.

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Bridget Llull on being selected a finalist. Please stay tuned for the announcement of scholarship winners coming soon.

Meet the Finalist: Julia Petrallo

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When Julia Petrallo was born, doctors told her parents to “enjoy the little time left” with her. Now a graduating senior at Canfield High School in Ohio, Julia has Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease (ARPKD). In addition to the dialysis and treatments for her failing kidneys, Julia experiences regular fatigue, migraines, and dizziness. While ARPKD has caused her to miss school, time with friends, and other events most teenagers take for granted, it has not stopped her from becoming a highly accomplished, passionate, and driven individual. 

Julia shares, “Having Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease has caused, and will continue to cause some of the worst days of my life. However, I know without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have the same drive, the same passions, or the same endless lust to make every day better.”

Julia’s long list of activities and accomplishments include, outstanding academic success, Speech and Debate Team, Varsity soccer, volunteering at the local Children’s Hospital, Lacrosse, and civic and political engagement. It is these activities and her vivacious spirit that define Julia - not her illness. 

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Julia Petrallo on being selected as a finalist. Please stay tuned for the announcement of scholarship winners coming soon.

RSF Sponsors Three Athletes at the 2018 Transplant Games

Salt Lake City, UT: Richie’s Spirit Foundation is proud to announce the three athletes it will be sponsoring at this year’s Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City, Utah. Over 50 athletes from across the country applied for funding, which will help with the cost of registration, travel, food, and lodging.

Elise Babin, 6 years old, from Houston, Texas, was born with biliary atresia and received a life-saving liver transplant in 2013 when she was 17 months old. Elise will be competing in Youth Bowling, Youth Olympiad, 25 yard Swim Freestyle, and Youth Basketball with Team Texas.

Jason Korbol, 32 years old, from Bloomington, Minnesota, is a living organ donor who is competing in his second Games. In 2013, Korbol donated a kidney to his mother. He is competing in Track & Field, Bowling, and Pickleball with Team Minnesota-Dakota.

Natalie Yates, 60 years old, from Memphis, Tennessee, is a two-time kidney transplant recipient. She received a kidney from a living donor in 1995 and and an organ donor in 2015. Yates is competing in Darts, Cornhole, Bowling, and the 5K Walk with Team Mid-South.

Held every other year, the Transplant Games of America are a multi-sport festival event to help promote the need for organ, eye, and tissue donation. The purpose is to show the world that transplantation is a treatment that does indeed work. This year marks the third Games in which Richie’s Spirit Foundation is a sponsor. The Games run from August 3 - 7 in Salt Lake City. 

Richie’s Spirit Foundation promotes organ donation to people of all ages through education awareness programs, grants to honor Richie’s memory, and inspiring others to live life with a positive spirit.

Meet the Winner: Anna King

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At the age of fourteen, Anna King, of Mayfield High School in Mayfield, New York received a life-saving heart transplant. Growing up, Anna and her parents never expected that as a 6th grader she’d be diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that prevented her heart from pumping effectively and resulted in her being in heart failure.

Anna shares, “People often remark they could never survive a situation like mine, but they’re wrong. There’s no other option. When the waters rise, you either swim or drown, which is no choice at all. People say I’m brave, but I’m not brave; I took my only option.”

Anna’s family started a Facebook page, “Humor Heals the Heart” and she became an “accidental” advocate of organ donation as she found internet fame when she released her popular video parody of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” This attention led to Anna becoming a speaker with the American Heart Association and Donate Life America. She has spoken at events throughout the US and inspired others as she serves as an advocate for organ donation, heart health, and positive thinking.

Anna is a leader at her high school where she is the president of the Key Club and her senior class.  Anna also takes college courses and participates in her school’s drama program. Whether in the classroom, on stage at an American Heart Association function or in her school’s auditorium, Anna is enthusiastic and positive every day as she believes each day provides her with opportunities to honor her organ donor.

RSF congratulates Anna as being named the First Place winner of the 2018 Richie's Spirit Foundation College Scholarship Program. 


Meet the Finalist: Brittany Kline-Hartman


Brittany Kline-Hartman’s childhood in Medina, Ohio was not easy. Her mother was an addict and spent most of Brittany’s childhood in and out of prison as she attempted to overcome her demons. Unfortunately, Brittany would soon face her own. At eleven years old, Brittany was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Fortunately, a year later, she secured the final spot in an experimental drug program for children with brain tumors. However, this experience was a lot for a child to bear.

In her essay Brittany shared, “Over that time, my brain tumor shrunk to half of its size and became inactive. Ironically, although the strength of the tumor was dwindling in size and power, my depression was growing stronger with insurmountable intensity. The struggles had finally caught up to me, and I had no will left to live.”

After a suicide attempt, Brittany was checked into a hospital and after months of therapy and reflection she began to realize her own worth. The high school senior plans to attend the University of Akron and enjoys serving on her school’s student council, performing in the color guard, and playing rugby. Her and a group of friends have raised money as they walked for suicide awareness and prevention. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and it is Brittany’s goal to bring awareness to this devastating and preventable act of despair.

As Brittany has found a zest for life and emerged from a dark place, she hopes to help others do the same.

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Brittany Kline-Hartman on being selected as a finalist. Please stay tuned for the announcement of scholarship winners coming soon.

Meet the Finalist: Moriah Irving

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A senior at North Phoenix Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, Moriah Irving has faced challenges and transformed feelings of loneliness and sadness into motivators to make a difference in the world. Moriah’s world would never be the same after her father killed himself after a long battle with mental illness. Because of this experience, this track and field captain who has numerous responsibilities including an after-school job at Baskin Robbins and serving as a member of the Youth and Education Commission of Phoenix, began volunteering as a Peer Counselor at Teen Lifeline.

At Teen Lifeline, Moriah answers phone calls from teens who are in crisis, ranging from suicidal and self-harming to those needing someone to talk to. In her essay, Moriah wrote “Through all of my experiences at Teen Lifeline, I try to create change even when I am not answering phone calls. I focus on being a caring and compassionate person to others. I am aware that I do not know what every person I interact with is going through in their life, or the hidden struggles they may have. With this in mind, I try to be someone who is kind and caring to everyone I interact with, and to be someone who is open minded and there for others.”

The future Scripps student plans on studying Neuroscience and Political Science. It is her goal to serve as an agent of change related to scientific developments and understanding about mental health, along with policy change and education in schools.

Richie's Spirit Foundation congratulates Moriah Irving on being selected a finalist. Please stay tuned for the announcement of scholarship winners coming soon.