Craig Pinto is one of those people you just have to admire. He’s a former professional indoor football player, a two-time Guinness World Record holder and an avid hockey fan. But Craig also sufferers from Crohn’s Disease, which he was diagnosed with at age 12, as well as Celiac Disease. Since his diagnosis, he has spent much of his time educating and giving back to the community through his foundation, Kicking 4 Celiac. This week, we sat down with Craig to learn more about Celiac Disease, his foundation, and what we can do to help.
BBL: Tell us about your experience with celiac disease. When were you diagnosed, and how did you feel?
Craig Pinto: My experience with celiac disease has spanned over a decade now. I was diagnosed with celiac disease 12 years ago, as a 22 year old. At the time of diagnosis, I really took it hard, because I had already been living with Crohn’s disease for 10 years, being diagnosed at 12 years old, so for me, it was much more difficult psychologically than physically. I felt like I had to figure out how to adjust again and not think I would always be sick. It took a while for me to feel better and have the confidence to go out to eat with friends, or out to eat in general, without worry of cross-contamination or having issues eating.
BBL: Why did you decide to start the Kicking 4 Celiac Foundation?
CP: I started the foundation after amazing response and feedback following my first Guinness Records event in October 2010. After meeting people and reading messages from people before and after the event, I became really passionate about creating this foundation, and more so to develop an outreach for people to have. A lot of times when people are diagnosed they are left to research it on their own, and we want to be able to be there for people based on experience. The foundation itself is composed of people who live active lifestyles and succeed with celiac disease or with people who live with diagnosed people and it has affected their lives as well, so we can always provide firsthand experience or advice to people who may be having issues living with celiac disease. I want people to look up to us and see that we are active, successful individuals and use that to motivate themselves and realize that they do not have to stop their lives or give up on their goals just because of a diagnosis.
BBL: You’re the Guinness World Record holder for field goals. How do you balance being an athlete with celiac disease?
CP: It took a while after diagnosis to find the proper nutrition and meal structure to get back into sports and physically demanding activities. I played professional football for two years prior to the Guinness World Records events as well, so the training leading up to those seasons really helped me get my mind and body working properly and added weight back on that I had initially lost. When we would travel during the season, it was a bit of a challenge, but not impossible, as I used to cook meals at home and just reheat the food during team meals. I am constantly active, whether playing or coaching, so being able to know what to eat and being well nourished is extremely important to me.
BBL: What’s your favorite gluten-free meal? Do you have a favorite recipe?
CP: My favorite gluten-free meal is quinoa pasta with grilled chicken and salad. After trying different types of gluten-free pasta, quinoa is my favorite [Ed. Note: We love quinoa pasta too!]. As far as recipes go, I am always excited when my sisters or mother bake anything gluten free. They make the best cupcakes and cookies!
BBL: What’s one thing you want people to know about celiac disease?
CP: The one thing I will usually stress is that when you are diagnosed with celiac disease it is not a life sentence to misery, or to starvation, or to sickness. It is difficult to hear at first, that most of what you’ve eaten your whole life has to be cut out of your diet, but there are people out there available to help educate, so use those resources and educate yourself to stay as healthy as you can possibly be. Diagnosis can be just a minor speed bump in your life, and not your whole life.
BBL: What can others do to help Kicking 4 Celiac?
CP: People can spread the word about the foundation and reach out to us through our website, www.Kicking4Celiac.org, or via twitter @Kicking4Celiac to stay updated on our programs and events. Since we are relatively new and small, spreading the word is one of the biggest helps right now. We have a new scholarship program that we are trying to develop, which we have already received about 200 application requests for in just our first year of offering it. That program, among a couple of other really great programs, is what we are focusing on developing, so any donation helps us to continuously grow that and helps us expand our operation and goals of educating and raising awareness for celiac disease.