Heartbreaking news to report from the UK Athletics family this evening, as a former University of Kentucky gymnast has died at the age of 25.
Shelby Hilton, a four-year letter-winner for the Wildcats from 2012 to 2015, lost her four-year battle with cancer on Friday night.
“Shelby inspired us all with the courage she showed throughout her fight and her strength will remain an example for everyone who had the honor of knowing her,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a press release. “The UK family mourns her passing and offers heartfelt condolences to the Hilton family.”
Hilton was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a form of pediatric brain cancer that occurs rarely in adults, back on February 27, 2015 following a fall during a meet at Florida. She was rushed to the hospital for testing on her head and neck, and although she avoided any serious injuries, an MRI revealed something even worse.
“This is a very sad time for everyone involved with our program and our deepest sympathies are with Shelby’s family and friends,” UK gymnastics coach Tim Garrison said in a statement. “Shelby had to give up many things during her fight with cancer, but more important is what she kept. She kept her courage, her smile, and her determination to live her life.
“She was one of the happiest and most persistent young women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I am so proud of what she was able to accomplish and more impressed with the way she went about it. She was a joy to be around and all those that knew her are better for it.”
In four years at Kentucky, Hilton participated in the vault and floor exercise, with various stints on the balance beam and uneven bars, on UK’s nationally-ranked team. She posted career highs of 9.85 on the vault, 9.925 on floor, 9.75 on the beam and 9.825 on bars.
Following her gymnastics career, Hilton returned to UK to complete her degree, twice earning a place on the SEC Academic Honor Roll in the process. She also received the Mike Lyden Courage Award at the 2016 UK Athletics CATSPY Awards.
All of us here at KSR pray for the Hilton and UK gymnastics families during this difficult time.