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T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News
Thomas Linton, a senior at Juan Diego Catholic High School, is the recipient of the Sports Faith International 2010 Prayers for Life Pro-Life award.

DRAPER — In less than two decades' time, Thomas Linton's life has been all over the map — literally and figuratively.

The young man resides in Mapleton, attends Payson's San Andres Catholic Parish and participates in a morning Junior ROTC class in Utah County before concluding his daily drive to attend classes and play sports at Draper's Juan Diego Catholic High School.

That's just his senior year at Juan Diego — his recent past includes having spent several years at a south Texas military school and preparing to continue his college education, wrestling and service endeavors at Alabama's Marion Military Institute.

Add in his advocacy and charity work, which has taken him throughout Utah, as well as to the likes of Texas, Arizona, Michigan and Canada.

Pretty heady stuff for someone just 19 years into life.

A life that almost wasn't.

An unwanted pregnancy nearly aborted.

"Our society teaches that death is the only answer — that you can abort and go back to your normal life again," Thomas said. "But abortion isn't the answer." Born in early November 1990 at Salt Lake City's LDS Hospital, Thomas learned early he was the adoptive child of Kent and Helen Linton, just like his sole sibling, Elizabeth, four years his elder. "They knew they were loved tons by four parents, not just two," says Helen Linton.

Several years ago, Elizabeth established a relationship with her birth mother, who at one point in her pregnancy found herself at an abortion clinic. But during the era's mandatory 24-hour wait period, the birth mother reconsidered, eventually giving birth to Elizabeth, then giving her up for adoption.

Curious about his own birth circumstances, Thomas made inquiries through Catholic Social Services, which facilitated his adoption. He learned his birth parents also had seriously considered abortion.

Other than the first names of James and Bobbie, he knows nothing more of his birth parents. But it's not for lack of trying.

That limited knowledge prompted Thomas' involvement in anti-abortion causes. "Kids that know they made it past the abortion mill, they really have an affinity for pro-life and babies," Helen Linton said.

Thomas' myriad of advocacy efforts includes working as a food shelter volunteer, helping severely disabled children and young cancer victims as part of an animal-assisted therapy team, and creating a contest between Juan Diego and neighboring Saint John's Middle School in promoting daily prayer and anti-abortion philosophies.

He's also active in Cross Roads, a civil rights organization faithful to Roman Catholic teachings and attentive to right-to-life causes. The Crossroads Pro-Life Walkers has older teens and college-age participants covering specific stretches along a prescribed route, praying along the way — specifically at abortion clinics.

He'll participate in the 2010 Pro-Life Walk, with routes from Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles leaving May 22 and converging Aug. 14 in the nation's capital.

Less visible are private efforts like aiding the 17-year-old girl introduced to him through a mutual friend. She was pregnant and considering abortion. Through Thomas' long talks and rides to the doctor, the young woman saw the pregnancy through, forwarding to Thomas a photograph of her to-be-adopted baby and a heartfelt message of appreciation.

All this comes in addition to his schooling and his sports — playing linebacker on Juan Diego's state championship football team and earning Utah all-star wrestling honors despite struggling with an early-season torn pectoral muscle.

Thomas' advocacy and athletics earned the attention of Sports Faith International, a Chicago-based, Catholic-oriented organization recognizing faith in the world of sports and highlighting the testimonies of professional, college and high school athletes.

The group honored Thomas Linton with its Prayers for Life Pro-Life Award, as the Juan Diego prepster shared 2010 recognition with the likes of Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Managhan and the late NFL star Brian Piccolo.

Juan Diego wrestling coach John Gavin recalled Thomas receiving notice of his award — the same day he was trying to drop four pounds prior to a match. "He showed me, then he humbly put it away and went and won his match," Gavin said. "He doesn't dwell on his past accomplishments — he's always moving on to the next thing."

At the February ceremonies in Chicago, the Chicago Bears owner and Sports Faith International founder/chairman Patrick McCaskey listed Thomas's accolades and quoted the young honoree: "Being adopted and not aborted has made me pro-life. The more pro-life I become, the more Catholic I become. I have personal proof that God places babies in the right home for them."

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The only downside: Thomas and his family missed traveling to the Chicago festivities — including an invitation to address the local Legatus group of high-level Catholic CEOs and businessmen — when a serious bout with pneumonia sidelined his mother.

Grateful for the 19 years given him by Kent and Helen Linton, Thomas cites their support and sacrifices as he's participated in school, military and sports activities. "They've been there through all the easy and tough times," he said. "I love them very much."

And what would he tell his birth mother given the chance?

"I'd say, 'Thank you for everything, for all the opportunities you gave me — and for not killing me.' "

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com