Kentucky Gymnastics Welcomes Hilton Home

A common theme resonates throughout the University of Kentucky’s Gymnastics team - keep fighting. 

That’s the message that head coach Tim Garrison relays to his team. 

“Just keep fighting," Garrison said. "Don’t give up." 

But Garrison isn’t only talking about on the floor, vault, bars and beams. He’s talking about a much greater fight that hits home with this team.

Friday night will be extra special for the ladies of the UK gymnastics team as they host Georgia in Memorial Coliseum. 

The gymnasts will also be welcoming home one of their own. Someone who wouldn’t let cancer win and lives to tell her story. 

It’s been almost a year since senior Shelby Hilton was gearing up to compete against the Florida Gators. Only seconds into her floor routine on Feb. 27, she took a shocking fall that may have ultimately saved her life. Hilton was rushed to the hospital, where, after various tests were taken, it was discovered she had been diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a form of pediatric brain cancer.   

“Everyone was shocked and scared because we weren’t able to see her,” said senior Montana Whittle. “We weren’t able to go and visit her in the hospital.”

While the team didn’t know what the future held for Hilton at the time, they went on with the rest of their season, using the hashtag “#ShelbyStrong” as motivation to win for their ill teammate. 

Hilton went through various cycles of treatment from April through the summer. Her battle was not easy. Just three months ago, Hilton was declared to be in remission, meaning that cancer symptoms were no longer affecting her. She is enrolled again at the University of Kentucky and is set to graduate next year. 

“I think it put everything in perspective for us,” said senior Tiara Phipps. “There is a life outside of gymnastics and this team is our family. That was kind of a chance for us to get closer and closer.” 

Phipps, along with several other juniors and seniors on the team, grew extremely close with Hilton and see her journey as a story of hope, an inspiration for those still fighting this disease. 

“Just don’t give up,” said junior Alyssa Bertoni. “She’s living proof. She fought and fought and fought no matter what the circumstance was. People are here to help you.” 

On Friday, the team is also partnering with DanceBlue, making the meet against Georgia the “DanceBlue Meet.” DanceBlue is a student-run, yearlong fundraising effort that culminates into a no-sitting, no-sleeping 24-hour dance marathon. It raises money for the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology clinic. 

The money raised, which has totaled over $8 million going into the event’s 11th year, directly benefits kids battling cancer here throughout the state of Kentucky.

DanceBlue’s overall chair, Erica Shipley, is thankful for organizations such as the gymnastics team that are able to help spread DanceBlue’s message. 

“Between our wonderful athletes on the gymnastics team, to our 2016 DanceBlue committee, to the patients we serve and love, cancer touches all of us,” said Shipley. 

Emotions will be high and the team will look to their former teammate to give them inspiration to bring home the victory. 

Phipps said it best.

“No victory is too small. Take one step and keep fighting.”