Local Obituaries

Shelby Hilton, UK gymnast who ‘inspired us all,’ dies after battling brain cancer

Shelby Hilton accepts the Catspy’s Mike Lyden Courage Award

UK gymnastics head coach Tim Garrison gives an overview of gymnast Shelby Hilton's battle with cancer last year before handing her the Mike Lyden Courage Award at Catspy's 2016 in Memorial Coliseum on April 25.
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UK gymnastics head coach Tim Garrison gives an overview of gymnast Shelby Hilton's battle with cancer last year before handing her the Mike Lyden Courage Award at Catspy's 2016 in Memorial Coliseum on April 25.

Former University of Kentucky gymnast Shelby Hilton, 25, has died after a long battle with cancer.

Hilton died Friday night in Orlando, UK Athletics said in a news release.

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

Hilton, of St. Petersburg, Fla., competed at UK from 2012 to 2015, lettering each year.

During her senior year at UK, Hilton, then 21, took a serious and unusual fall during a tumbling routine at a meet in Florida and was sent to a hospital for a CT scan to make sure she was not injured. The testing revealed spots that turned out to be medulloblastoma, a rare pediatric brain cancer.

She endured rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and then, her cancer in remission, Hilton returned to UK to complete her communications degree in 2016.

After graduation, she returned to Florida and worked as a sales representative, according to the university.

Hilton was diagnosed with cancer again last May.

Just four months ago, she posted on a GoFundMe page set up to help with her medical expenses that she had endured even more grueling rounds of chemo and radiation but that she had completed treatment and been declared cancer-free.

She wrote that she was “ready to get back to work and move on with my life.”

“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,” UK gymnastics coach Tim Garrison said in the news release. “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.”

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Shelby Hilton was normally such a consistent performer, her coach used her as Kentucky’s “leadoff hitter” for the floor rotation.”I didn’t think at 21 years old, let alone a student-athlete and being in shape, that I could even have cancer,” she said.

As a gymnast, Hilton was a versatile athlete who competed in the vault, floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars. Her career highs were 9.85 on the vault, 9.925 on floor, 9.75 on the beam and 9.825 on bars, according to UK.

Prior to her collegiate career, Hilton competed in club gymnastics with the Tampa Bay Turners.

Her Tampa Bay coach, Brad Harris, shared the news of her passing on the club’s Facebook page, saying “she was a phenomenal role model” for her teammates and younger athletes.

“Although her last few years were more difficult than most of us can even comprehend, she fought until her very last breath,” Harris wrote. “Our hope now is that she is in a better place, free of pain and that her wonderful family finds peace in focusing on the way she LIVED, not the way that she died.”

Hilton is survived by her parents, Hank Hilton and Donna Hilton, and a brother, Henry.

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