Former D.C. United and New York Red Bulls midfielder Shawn Kuykendall
died early Wednesday at the age of 32 from
thymic cancer. His public fight with the rare and incurable form of cancer inspired many people in and outside the soccer community and drew support from MLS players, who wore "kuykenstrong" T-shirts
prior to the 2013 All-Star Game against Roma.
Kuykendall followed in the footsteps of his father, Kurt
, who played in the old NASL with the
Washington Diplomats, New York Cosmos and Rochester Lancers, and played soccer at American University.
He played two games for D.C. United in 2005 but did not play a game for the Red
Bulls after injuring his knee. He went into coaching and worked as the director of player development for Montgomery Soccer Inc.
In July 2013, he was diagnosed with Stage IV thymic cancer
after a tumor was found in his chest. His fight with good humor and inspiration from prayer was chronicled
by the Washington Post's Rick Maese
. In the fall, he
returned AU's practices and attended United matches but he was battling a form of cancer that had no known cure.
Kuykendall's father only discovered soccer while attending AU, but all five of the Kuykdenall children grew up playing soccer and went on to play Division I soccer -- Shawn and brothers Kris
(all American) and sisters Jamie
(Jacksonville) and Sami
The children were home-schooled by their mother, Sherry
, and their father was self-employed as a real
estate agent so the family spent lots of time together and was close-knit. Sherry told
Maese a story of the time
the Kuykendall boys went hunting.
“Shawn was standing on a fence. Kurt said, ‘Why don’t you jump on the donkey?’” Sherry recalled recently. “Shawn
jumped on this wild donkey and then it started bucking and it threw him off. But he landed on his feet. He just had natural coordination. He was always very athletic.” Shawn Kuykendall's story: