Obituary: Marco Giovengo | Robert Morris student refused to let muscular dystrophy define him
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Born with a rare type of muscular dystrophy that confined him to a wheelchair since childhood, Marco Giovengo strove for independence. An average life.
But he miscalculated somewhere in his 22-year quest. Not only did he attain normalcy, he became an inspiration.
"It would've been easy for him to have just done nothing, but he chose to do everything, and I think that is something we will always remember about Marco," said Elisabeth Charles, director of bands at Robert Morris University.
Mr. Giovengo died Friday when his heart stopped at his Lexington Hall apartment at Robert Morris.
Born and raised in McCandless, Mr. Giovengo was a goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association since age 4 and raised thousands of dollars for the organization.
He was honored as a distinguished finalist in the 2008 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Pennsylvania for his MDA work and was given the President's Volunteer Service Award by George W. Bush in 2008 as a senior at North Allegheny High School.
But it wasn't until college at RMU that he began to blossom socially and gained the independence he had always wanted.
Determined not to let his disease slow him down, he joined the school's marching and pep bands, the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and was on the homecoming court.
He found mutual friendship and inspiration in Danny Bonaventura, a 21-year-old cornerback on the football team and a fellow sports management major.
Mr. Bonaventura said he didn't know what to expect the first time he went to Mr. Giovengo's apartment to help him with a class assignment.
He had never interacted with someone with disabilities.
But when he walked into a home filled with Pirates memorabilia and Mr. Giovengo talked trash as he beat him in video games, Mr. Bonaventura realized he was just like any other guy.
"I had never met anyone who knew as much as I did about baseball," he said.
The unlikely pair hit it off immediately and their friendship grew last summer when Mr. Bonaventura moved one floor above Mr. Giovengo.
When Mr. Giovengo visited Mr. Bonaventura, the nurse that was by his side 24 hours a day would wait outside, allowing him the independence he craved.
The pair would have what Mr. Giovengo dubbed "bullpen sessions," in which talks about life often drifted to girls.
He asked Mr. Bonaventura to put together a list of "swag lines" for the ladies, and he practiced them on him when he came over.
"He would call me his manager, and he was my pitcher," Mr. Bonaventura said.
He remembers Mr. Giovengo as one of the best and most loyal friends he's ever had.
When the Colonials struggled this season and Mr. Bonaventura didn't perform as well as he had hoped, Mr. Giovengo supported him.
He would come to practices accompanied by his nurse, even though sun irritated his skin, and he would drive his wheelchair across the field to cheer Mr. Bonaventura on during drills.
"That really meant so much to me, that he would actually take the time despite how much he hated being in the sun like that," he said.
Mr. Bonaventura said he encouraged Mr. Giovengo to pursue his dream of becoming a general manager for the Pirates.
He had just interviewed for an internship with his beloved Pirates last week.
He was expected to graduate in May and had been accepted to the department's graduate program.
"He was just so courageous and so inspiring," Mr. Bonaventura said. "Just think about how many people you know who just don't take advantage of all the blessings you have and don't truly appreciate everything you go through."
He said his friend appreciated life and the people in it.
When they parted, he always said "I love you."
"He did it every time no matter where we were, and I did it too," he said. "Sometimes people would give us weird looks, but I didn't care."
Donna Giovengo said her son was the most upbeat person she had ever met.
"He smiled from the minute he got up until the minute he went to sleep," she said. "He never thought he had a disease. He was a normal kid."
In addition to his mother, Mr. Giovengo is survived by his father, Jude, of McCandless, his sister Diandra Giovengo of Palm Beach Garden, Fla., and his grandparents Robert and Cathy Iannelli of McCandless.
Arrangements were by T.B. Delvin Funeral Home, Ross. A Mass will be held at the Sisters of the Holy Spirit Chapel, 5246 Clarwin Ave., Ross, today at 9:30 a.m.
The family asks that contributions are made to the Marco Giovengo Memorial Fund at Robert Morris University, Office of Annual Giving, 6001 University Blvd., Attn. Jennifer Crawford, Moon, PA 15108.
First Published March 21, 2012 12:00 am