The bubbly freckle-faced girl who inspired thousands at Union to join her eight-year battle against cancer is being remembered for her determination, grace and courage.
Kristen L. Shinebarger, who passed away Dec. 20, 2018, at the age of 16, will be remembered during a pre-game moment of silence at the Mayor’s Cup hockey game on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. at the Times Union Center in Albany.
“It is fitting that we remember Kristen before a big game like the Mayor’s Cup,” said Jim McLaughlin, director of athletics. “Her spirit moved people on all corners of this campus, but nowhere more than athletics, where she stood as a shining example of courage meeting adversity.”
Kristen, the daughter of Shelly Shinebarger, director of disability services and international advising, was diagnosed as a third grader with Ewing’s sarcoma, a childhood cancer of the bones and soft tissue. Early on, she endured the amputation of her right leg followed by dozens of surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation sessions.
Kristen’s fight launched dozens of fundraisers and awareness campaigns by thousands of students and hundreds of staff and faculty over the years. Funds to Kristen’s Kause supported the Shinebarger family’s treatment expenses, including travel.
“Mere words could never express our gratitude,” Kristen’s mother said. “From Texas to Japan and Ohio, the Union support followed us and helped keep us afloat. She knew she was loved and supported by the entire Union community.”
The fundraisers also supported cancer research, with Kristen and her family often present to thank those involved. Events included Dutchmen Dip; Run, Ribs and Reggae; 3-on-3 basketball; Home Run Derby (also in support of the late Justin Lloyd ’16); Family Feud; Pink at the Rink; and the Sarcoma 5K race.
Kristen was made an honorary member by several teams, including men’s and women’s ice hockey, where she had her own stall in the locker rooms. Her mother recalls with a laugh her daughter’s excitement at first visiting the men’s locker room, followed by her realization that locker rooms have a particular aroma. She dropped the puck at a number of hockey games.
“We tried to do as much as we could with the events for Kristen,” said Rick Bennett, head coach of men’s ice hockey. “It was a collective effort on the part of all the guys.”
In April of 2014, Bennett shaved his head in solidarity with Kristen for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser. Two weeks later, when the team won a national championship, his hairless photo was on sports pages across the country.
Kristen’s mom, as advisor to international students, is well known to Canadian hockey players for making Union a home. “Just being able to support that family is a great thing,” said Ashley Johnston ’14, a member of the women’s ice hockey team and mechanical engineer whose senior project was to design a prosthetic leg that could be adjusted to grow with Kristen.
Cheryl Rockwood, head trainer and director of student athlete programming, said that athletes, even those who hadn’t met Kristen, admired her grit.
She’d already lost a leg, and her hair not growing back was the only thing that made her cry,” Rockwood said. “How freakin’ tough was this kid.”
Eric McDowell, former sports information director, said, “Our athletes watched Kristen grow with courage and strength and they were proud and honored to know her and to support her.”
Kaitlyn Suarez ’16 organized the first Dutchmen Dip. “Kristen was the inspiration for our first Dutchmen Dip,” she said. “Her legacy will live on as Union continues to support other members of its community battling cancer.”
Survivors also include her father, Marc; brother, Eric; and grandparents, Harry and Donna Shinebarger of Ballston Spa, N.Y., and Billy and Julie Harrington of Williamson, N.C.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Carson Sarcoma Foundation.
A published obituary is here.