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Ex-UK Gymnast Shelby Hilton Dies at Age of 25 After Battle with Cancer

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Shelby Hilton, a University of Kentucky gymnast who fought a courageous four-year battle with cancer, died Friday night in Orlando, Florida, at the age of 25.

Shelby Hilton (UK Athletics Photo)

“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,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “The UK family mourns her passing and offers heartfelt condolences to the Hilton family.”


A native of St. Petersburg, Fla., Hilton was a four-year letterwinner for the Wildcats from 2012-15. She earned competition slots as a freshman on UK’s nationally ranked team, participating in the vault and floor exercise. As her career progressed, the versatile athlete added the balance beam and uneven bars to her repertoire. She posted career highs of 9.85 on the vault, 9.925 on floor, 9.75 on the beam and 9.825 on bars.


Hilton discovered her illness when she took a frightful fall on a tumbling run during a meet at Florida on Feb. 27, 2015. She was rushed to the hospital for testing on her head and neck, but had avoided the injuries that were feared. However, an MRI revealed something else – medulloblastoma, a form of pediatric brain cancer that occurs rarely in adults.


“This is a very sad time for everyone involved with our program and our deepest sympathies are with Shelby’s family and friends,” said UK gymnastics coach Tim Garrison. “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.”


After the diagnosis, Hilton immediately began a medical regimen, and alongside four years of treatments, continued to compete in life as she had in gymnastics. She returned to UK and resumed her studies, twice earning a place on the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll.


While completing her degree in communication, she received the Mike Lyden Courage Award at the 2016 UK Athletics CATSPY Awards. Following graduation, she landed a position as a sales representative in Florida.

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