Let’s give Shawn the standing ovation he deserves

Several of Shawn’s closest friends paid tribute to him during his memorial service. Jason McGraw grew up with Shawn, childhood friends born weeks apart from one another. Jason reflects on their relationship below.

By Jason McGraw

The first memory I have of Shawn is from 1986. We were in Pre-school. The uniform was a burgundy cardigan and a plaid tie. Just two men trying to make our way in a kiddy world. Our favorite pastime was getting the girls in our class so riled up at recess that they would chase us around the playground. They never caught us, of course, due to our freakish athleticism…. We lived the fast life then.


Late nights, chasing girls, hopped up on apple juice. Living graham cracker to graham cracker. Those were the days…

It’s difficult to think that it would only be 28 years later, just a few weeks after both of our 32nd birthdays that I would form my last memory with Shawn.

I thought for sure that in that moment, standing next to his bed, that I would be filled with memories of playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with Shawn, his older brother Kris and my older brother David. The four of us used to adventure all the places that young boys are supposed to go: the sewer, the woods, the streets. Shawn always played Raphael because Shawn gets what Shawn wants while the rest of us took turns playing Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo.


If not our childhood adventures, then in that final moment I knew I would think of the McGraw-Kuykendall family dinners or our shared vacations, or me and Shawn’s absolute annihilation of the Fairfax U6 soccer league.

But none of that came to mind…

Standing next to his bed for the last time I just knew I’d think of playing indoor, full contact, on your knees only, nerf basketball. Yes, that struggle was real.

And when it wasn’t basketball, it was taking penalty kicks on each other in the Kuykendall’s basement. But not the basement that most of you know. I’m talking about the basement before the basement. The one with the beam in the middle of the room that doubled as the penalty spot, which was right next to the room full of all of Kurt’s old soccer gear. We used to rummage through all his old uniforms until we found one we liked and then we wore it and pretended it was the World Cup finals.

Shawn and I always wore the silver jersey because we wanted to be like Walter Zenga.

When it wasn’t penalty kicks, it was street hockey where Shawn always conned me into playing goalie. And when it wasn’t street hockey it was two on two football.

But no, none of that came to mind either.


Maybe it was just too long ago and I couldn’t remember in such tense circumstances. But surely, even then I would think of our college trips between James Madison and American University, or our Halloween adventures as the Hoosiers basketball team, the German badminton team, or the Mighty Ducks.

Yes, we did the flying V through the streets of DC. And yes, people loved it.

Or even better, I’d think of when Shawn dressed up like Ace Ventura and was walking up to random people all night saying, “Hi, Ace Ventura. Pet detective. I’m looking for Ray Finkle.” And then he’d flash a homemade Pet Detective badge.

I think Shawn loved Halloween because it gave him permission to be the most extreme version of himself.


But in that moment, standing next to Shawn’s hospital bed, none of that came to mind.

As I stood there with my wife, we each grabbed one of Shawn’s hands to pray. With sadness overwhelming me, I was very surprised at the emotion that emerged when I finally managed to open my mouth to pray. It was gratitude.

32 years of experiences and all I wanted to say was, “Thank you.”…

I’m certainly aware that I’m not the only one who was thankful for Shawn so I asked many of Shawn’s friends to tell me what they would thank Shawn for if they had this moment.

I’d like share a few of them with you.


– Thank you for showing us it is Ok to get giddy about the little things in life-like ice cream, a catchy boy band song, or a deep v neck cardi.

– Thank you for taking a selfie in a bathtub while eating a drumstick and proving that your ridiculousness indeed has no limits!


– Thank you for your loving nature, your playfulness, and your left foot. And your right foot. And your ability to use both together so skillfully on the soccer field and the dance floor.

– Thank you for your inappropriate humor and reminding us not to sweat the small stuff.

– Thank you for deeeec, honey nut serio, taco beezy, wendinho’s, booooooger king, struggle muffin sandwich, bird calls, baila baila, nubs, donk, JK rowling, kerri struggs, , siiiiick, baaazilly, pound pound, knuckle touch… thank you for being cover free since 2003, for yums in my tums, for looking a redonkulous 12 out of 10, and for always wearing the tightest of toight pants.

– Thank you for making us laugh and teaching us that it is possible not to care what others think. In a good way 🙂

– Thank you for the love, and support, and encouragement you gave all of us through your endless friendship.

– Thank you for your unconditional love, for your forgiving spirit, for your thoughtfulness, and your loyalty.

– Thank you for inspiring us, for filling our lives with joy, and reigniting our passion to live.

– Thank you seeking out the best in all of us and encouraging us to be better today than we were yesterday.

– Thank you for your honesty and transparency and authenticity. You helped us find out who we are by allowing us to all watch you be so comfortable with who you are.

– Thank you for your selflessness.

– Thank you for bringing so many people together through your infectious sense of humor.

– Thank you that no matter who we were or what we did, you never gave up on any of us.

– Thank you for teaching us that doing unto others as you would have them do to you is not just a principle; it’s a way of life.

– Thank you for teaching us how to be bold, how to never stop exploring and growing, and how to relentlessly pursue life with wit and zest.

– Thank you for teaching us what true courage is.

– Thank you for pushing us deeper in our relationship with Jesus.

– Thank you for being a dreamer and helping us dream big.

– Thank you for teaching us to trust God, to rest in God’s sovereign arms every step of the way, to fully live in the moment and to love life through any circumstance.

– Thank you for changing our perspective on life, and despite your comical self-indulgence, thank you for showing us that it’s ok to care more about others than we do ourselves.


– Thank you for having a faith that never wavered, never wondered, never doubted, and always pointed us back to the cross.

– Thank you for proving that no matter how tragic they are, our circumstances will NEVER define us.

– Thank you for teaching us that our response to our worst circumstances is our choice.

– Thank you, for in your circumstance, when you had every right to choose sadness, for choosing joy.

– When you had every right to choose despair, thank you for choosing hope.

– When you had every right to choose bitterness, thank you for choosing laughter.

– And when you had every right to choose hate, thank you for choosing love.

It all of sudden made sense to me why my bedside thoughts were those of gratitude. In that moment I couldn’t help but say, “Lord I am so thankful for this man. I’m so thankful God that you would love this man so much that would you send your one and only Son Jesus to die on a cross so that in situations just like this, it is not the end. Thank you that Shawn will spend eternity in Heaven, and that we will be reunited again.”


Shawn was so uniquely created for such a specific purpose and we were all witness to it. I hope you know that the God who created Shawn for such a purpose, created you for one too. And I hope that you will honor Shawn with me by pursuing your purpose as relentlessly and as lovingly and gracefully as Shawn did.

And we stand here, Shawnie, amazed at your life well-lived. And a job well done. Would you join me in giving Shawn a well deserved standing ovation as a statement with our appreciation and thanks?

Kuykenstrong News

Thanking Shawn for saving my life

Several of Shawn’s closest friends paid tribute to him during his memorial service. Mike Foss met Shawn in 2005 while playing for D.C. United’s U-17 team. Mike reflects on their relationship below.

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of what Shawn would make of all of this. The whole thing. The attendance, the speeches. You know, I write for a living but this has been the hardest deadline to meet in my career. Not because I lacked content, but because every time I went to write, I could feel Shawn in my ear.

The fact of it is, throughout our friendship, Shawn was pushing me to always do more. Just go big, Mike. Just don’t worry about it, just go big. Don’t get caught up in the details, trust yourself.

Go big. Huge. Just go for it.

Whatever it was, Shawn wanted it to be the greatest size possible.

I think he is most pleased with how big we went on this day.

Every ounce of Shawn was pushing for something bigger in his life. He got that from his dad, you know. His drive and work ethic is straight from you, Kurt. He inherited a lot of qualities from you – the best ones to be sure. Shawn could put people at ease within moments of meeting them, and leave them feeling like they had known each other for years after a five-minute conversation – just like Kurt can.

But it was the competitive fire Kurt instilled in Shawn, which drove him to be the man he was. It was his finest attribute, Kurt. But you couple that drive with Shawn’s extraordinary confidence and overwhelming exuberance, and it also made him a challenge. Remember when you were trying to coach your team but kept getting interrupted by that loud DING.



You whirled around to see who had the gall to interrupt your session.

There was Shawn, pinging rocks off the crossbar with a mischievous smile.



You know, his competitive drive and confidence was all you. I’m not sure where he got the rock throwing.

He got his mirth from Sherry.

It’s true. Sherry walks into a room and everything shines. You shone brightest in a hospital room in the Georgetown ICU. Those were the darkest of days, but every time you set foot in that room, there was light.

You shined on Shawn for 32 years. He inherited your unbridled joy and shared it with the world. Even in his most trying hours, when his mind was playing tricks on him, he could still find a way to joke, to smile, and to wink. To the very end, he still had the Kuykenwink.


His drive and his spirit defined him, and often drove a lot of us up the wall. Shawn was the kind of dreamer that was convinced his dreams could come true. Sami didn’t help that at all. You were always up for every single one of Shawn’s adventures. He took you to a Jonas Brothers’ concert six years ago. He probably really appreciated how excited you were to go – because let’s be honest, he would’ve gone alone if you didn’t want to go. And that would have been pretty uncomfortable for everyone. But he went for you and to be with you. He loved you so much.

You were the best supporting actress a YouTube sensation could ever ask for. Shawn had no shame when that camera came on and Sami was right there the second Shawn decided to step into Christmas. There wasn’t a dream Shawn had that Sami wasn’t willing to turn into a reality.

Kris, Jason, and Jamie, your relationships with Shawn would sometimes come to a rough crossroads, and that exuberance and drive he had would sometimes be nothing more than a pain in the butt. I would witness it firsthand on the soccer field when the four of us played together.

“Jason, you gotta make runs into space and Kris, we need to combine in the midfield.”

Shut up, Shawn.


But he doesn’t become such a powerful witness to Christ without the three of you. You kept him in check, you helped him grow, and you shaped who he was. It wasn’t all Jonas Brothers concerts – sorry Kris, I know you felt left out. Sometimes it was tough love. But it was the right love, the love he needed – the love you all needed.

When Shawn insisted he could get out of bed and play 90 minutes of soccer despite a collapsed lung and three surgeries in the span of a week, he needed someone strong enough to tell him to stay in bed. All those years of relationship meant that even though he was struggling in that bed with what was real and what wasn’t, he knew you were real and he trusted that you were looking out for him and protecting him.

He needed the three of you. He needed you during all those years of soccer in the house and on the pitch at American, and when things were wonderful and when things were terrible.

Then he needed you when things grew dire. He knew right where to find you and you were all prepared to accept that challenge. Readily, happily, you walked him to the gates of heaven.

There were days when I was sure he was being disagreeable just for fun. But when I look back on every fight I ever had with him, they came out of Shawn wanting me to do something bigger, be something greater. Isn’t that what you want out of your best friend – your friend who sticks closer than a brother? An unrelenting purpose to make you better. It might not have felt like it at the time, but I know in my heart, Shawn was pushing me for something bigger than me.

For as much as he may have pushed the people, he also loved them silly. He loved harder than anyone I’ve ever met. I saw it every time he picked up Fiona, Lily, Emmy, and Xander. Uncle Donny was the ringleader for pillow fights, roughhousing, and anything else you dreamed up.


Uncle Donny was like Mary Poppins … if Mary Poppins wore v-necks, and had a hipster haircut … and you know, was a guy.

The four of you have the trendiest guardian angel of all time.

Every person in this room knew Shawn in some form or fashion. He had a way of making everyone he met feel like his best friend.

But the fact of it is, none of us was Shawn’s best friend.

Shawn’s best friend was Jesus.

He brought him up in conversation like you and I would an old college buddy. Jesus was with 14-year-old Shawn in a dorm room in Brazil when he was about to get beat up by a teammate. Jesus hung out in the bleachers of RFK Stadium with Shawn and Kyle Sheldon when they snuck away from responsibilities at DC United to watch the Nationals play. I know Jesus was hanging out with Shawn and Kyle because he was clearly not with the Nationals. Those were dark days indeed.

Jesus was there when Shawn learned that he was dying.

Shawn saw the path Jesus laid before him in July, and he embraced it. He let Jesus put his arm around him and lead the way. How often did we all witness Shawn talk about his friendship with God during his final months? Whether the prognosis was good or bad, it was in Jesus’ hands. Every step Shawn took was a reaffirmation of his faith.

Colossians 2:12 says: “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

You see Shawn’s faith was his greatest gift. All the wit, determination, and laughter that he had could never amount to his willingness to trust in his sovereign God. That trust led him straight to the gates of heaven—and he got in, because he knew a guy.

If there’s one regret I have, it’s that I didn’t take the time to pray with Shawn more. These past eight months, I was with him so many days, countless hours. But not until this final month did I really pray deeply and by that time, Shawn wasn’t always present. I would sit in the hospital room with him, and try to recall how he would talk to Jesus, and try to mimic him. I would give Shawn a sideways glance from time to time and apologize for not getting it just right. Hopefully he didn’t mind too much.


I told my pastor of my regret last week. How if there is one thing I would do over, it would be to pray with Shawn one more time.

“I think the best thing you can do now is thank him,” my pastor said.

What are you talking about?

“I think you should thank Shawn,” he said again.

Yeah, I heard you. What are to talking about?

“You should thank Shawn because he saved you. He taught you how to surrender to Jesus and let him be your best friend. He taught you to pray. Prayer isn’t just a bunch of Our Fathers. Prayer is a conversation. Shawn didn’t pray to Jesus, he had conversations. So now, when you think about him and you think about your relationship, add Jesus. And the three of you can talk in prayer for the rest of your life.

“And when you’re done, thank him. Thank him for saving your life.”

Thanks, Shawn.

Kuykenstrong News

“I want to have an intimate gathering with my 60 closest friends”

Several of Shawn’s closest friends paid tribute to him during his memorial service. Melanie Menditch met Shawn in 2001 as freshman at American University. Melanie shares her fondest memories of their relationship below.

By Melanie Menditch

It was a warm August afternoon in 2001 — move in day for the newest freshman class at American University. I walked into the dorm room of Nick Zaron and introduced myself. Across the room was what looked to be a middle schooler. This tween popped up from a nap. At first I thought that this was Nick’s little brother. It wasn’t. This was a 19-year-old Shawn Kuykendall. His first words to me were: “Hi, I’m Shawn. I like your halter top but not with those shoes.”

Shawn always made a lasting impression.


A month or so into our friendship, Shawn invited me to lunch. I told him that I’d love to go, but I needed 5 minutes to get ready. Shawn bluntly stated, “Well, I guess I’ll see you there. Bye.” And he left. The boy couldn’t wait 5 minutes. I think it’s fair to say that Shawn, in those days, had some pretty underdeveloped social skills. It is also fair to say that, over time, Shawn became a mastermind in the art of human connection.

Any individual in this room could stand up and share an anecdote of a time that Shawn made you feel loved or made you laugh. He was something that writers could only dream up in fictional characters. He was smart, funny, charismatic, endlessly talented, and just a weeee bit vain. Shawn was also the most dynamic storyteller I have ever known. The stories he loved, he would tell over and over again. We never got sick of them because of how captivating he was. Sometimes he was even known to steal a story or two. He would legitimately tell the story as if he was actually the one who had experienced the event. This usually worked out for him.- Except for that one time he got caught.

“Aww, that was your story? I couldn’t remember who told it to me. It was just sooo un-buh-lev-able. I had to tell it.”


Over the past few months, Shawn’s friends, many of whom I had never met, have reached out to me. They have offer words of hope, encouragement, and finally, condolences. My favorites, however, were shared videos of Shawn just being Shawn. When I started watching, I figured I had already seen the clips before. Even so, I watched. I watched because I would give anything to see Shawn’s face again, to hear his voice, and to laugh at Shawn just being Shawn. To my surprise, not one was alike. Shawn tailored unique videos to each special friendship. This must be one of the many reasons he had so many friends.

When trying to figure out the logistics of his 32nd birthday, I asked him what he would like to do. His face lit up and he said matter of factly, “I want to have an intimate gathering at Paolo’s with my 60 closest friends.” I laughed and said, “Who has 60 closest friends? Nobody has 60 closest friends.”… Nobody except Shawn had 60 closest friends. As I look around today, I come to realize that Shawn seriously underestimated that figure.


I have known the Kuykendall’s almost as long as I’ve known Shawn. Over the years they have been nothing but warm and inviting to anyone who enters their home. It is clear that Kurt, Sherry, Kris, Shawn, Jason, Jamie, and Sami have always loved each other very much. Over the past 9 months I have come to know their indestructible support for one another.

I remain in awe of Sherry. She stayed positive throughout Shawn’s entire battle. Even at the end, I would see her with a smile across her face. She spoke of the positives even when the only positive was, “Shawn looks restful today.” It is hard to fathom that you can recognize beauty through so much pain- but you can- and I’ve seen it again and again with the Kuykendall’s.


The most beautiful moment I witnessed was between Kris, Jason, and Shawn. Kris had been at the hospital all day and into the evening. Before he left for the night, the three boys held hands, cried, prayed, and said I love you. Both brothers told Shawn that he didn’t need to be strong anymore; he could now rest and be at peace. I watched from the foot of the bed with tears streaming down my face both devastated that my best friend was slipping away and humbled to be in the presence of such love and strength.

One of the very last things Shawn said to me was, “Melanie Menditch, I love you. There is nothing left for me to say.” And there wasn’t. And although I will forever cherish those words, he didn’t need to say them because I already knew — and I always loved him in return.

I continue to pick up my phone to call or text Shawn everyday. When I put the phone down, I endure this painful empty feeling inside that won’t subside. It’s the silly things that now make me the saddest. But just as quickly as the despair transpires, I find myself smiling or laughing at what our conversations looked and sounded like.


I can no longer text him to find out the newest remedy for stretching out jeans that are way too tight. I won’t receive any more urgent calls where Shawn asks me to turn my speakerphone on so that the world can hear about his epic bowel movement. I can’t call him and ask him the name of the hair salon we went to on Halloween; the salon where he had his hair washed at midnight dressed as He-Man.

There are so many things that I will miss about Shawn, but he has engraved himself so deeply in my heart and memory that I know I will find myself smiling more and more when thinking about the times he entertained me, challenged me, and made me a better person for knowing and loving him.

Kuykenstrong News

Alecko Eskandarian remembers Shawn’s wit, talent, and love of Jesus

(Eskandarian in 2003)

(Eskandarian during his time at UVa)

Tribute To Shawn Kuykendall
By: Alecko Eskandarian

The first time I met Shawn Kuykendall was when I was 13-years-old and my New Jersey ODP (Olympic Development Program) team played against his Virginia ODP team at the finals of the Region 1 Tournament Showcase in 1995. I didn’t start that game, as I was very much still in my shell at this point in my soccer career, and I was quite intimidated being it was my first season competing in the ODP program.

For those that might not know, before the land of academies, ODP was everything to youth soccer. It was your barometer to see what level of soccer player you were, a ticket to any potential college scholarship, and most importantly, it was your only avenue to being called up to the US Youth National Teams.

The process was cutthroat, and much like The Hunger Games, you played in front of an audience and did your best to convince coaches with clipboards on the sidelines that you deserved to make it to the next phase of the program (Area Team -> State Team -> Regional Team -> National Team). So as I sat on the bench on that hot summer day at Rider University, I had front row seats to the clinic that 4’ 11” Shawn Kuykendall was about to put on for all these coaches, including my team’s defense. Virginia ended up thumping us in the finals 3-0, and if my memory serves correct, Shawn had all three assists. Every player and parent on our sideline walked away from that game saying, “That little kid in the middle crushed us. Who is that kid?” Shawn went on to be called up to the U14 US National Team for our 1982 age group pool that included the likes of Landon Donovan, Damarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wingert, etc etc.

A year later, brimming with confidence, I was more determined than ever to make my mark on the ODP program. I came back a completely different player and helped propel our NJ State Team to become Region 1 Champions. As a result, I was called in to the Regional Team where the best players from the Region 1 Tournament were selected to compete with each other at various international tournaments. My first trip was under current Princeton Head Coach Jim Barlow to Sao Paulo, Brazil to compete against youth professional Brazilian clubs. This trip was a turning point in my soccer life. One of my roommates on this trip was Shawn Kuykendall.


(Shawn at 16)

From the moment I walked in the doors of our dorm room with four bunk beds (there were eight of us to a room), Shawn greeted me as if he were a parent chaperone. Right off the bat, he introduced himself and began introducing us new guys to all the players, while indirectly throwing comical jabs using a bit of his Virginia twang. For example, a typical conversation would be like: “Hey I’m Shawn Kuykendall from Virginia, what’s your name? Oh cool. Well glad you could make it for this trip. This trip is going to be so beast. I mean, we’re in Brazil. So beast, right? Well this is Kelvin Jones, he looks super mean with his afro but he is actually a really nice guy so don’t be offended but don’t tell him I said that…” and so on and so on.

Shawn loved to talk. And he was hilarious. My NJ State Team teammate (and best friend) Lloyd Osafo and I found him to be entertaining and constantly asked him questions which he was more than happy to answer. He used words, like “beast”, which we had never heard before used in the context that he used them. So for about 90% of that trip, Shawn Kuykendall was in our ears talking about how “beast” and “crucial” things in life were. Oh, they’re serving mac and cheese today? “That’s crucial!” Oh, you’re wearing those new Diadora cleats? “Those are so beast!” Shawn was the center of attention at all times when he was in the room, and for a quiet kid like me (I have changed much since then), it was a sense of relief to know there was one kid brave enough to break the ice within the group and help bring us together.

But not everyone always enjoyed Shawn’s humor and constant talking. Being that he was extremely witty yet was still almost a foot shorter than everyone else, some of the guys would resort to physical threats to counter his witty remarks. I will never forget one night in Brazil when at 4 AM I was woken up by some sort of verbal confrontation Shawn was having with one of our teammates.

I had no idea how it all began, but I will never forget how it ended as it was the first time I witnessed someone who was willing to die for his faith. Anyone that knew Shawn Kuykendall knows what a devout Christian he was. So at the ripe age of 14 when Shawn was threatened with the words, “I’m going to kick your ass”, he responded with “Well, I’m going to pray for you.” I remember perking up in my bunk bed wondering what Shawn was trying to accomplish. As our teammate became even more aggressive by saying he wasn’t religious and he was going to kill Shawn, Shawn calmly started rehearsing quotes from the Bible about faith, forgiveness, and death. It blew my mind. Some of my teammates and I eventually jumped in and told the two of them to shut up and go to sleep, but Shawn’s actions that night never left me.

Truth is, I didn’t see Shawn for about five years after that trip to Brazil. Being that he was one of the most technically sound players in the country, the rumor had it that he hit a huge growth spurt and couldn’t quite play the way he used to. I got called in to the Regional Team and National Team the following year, but Shawn was nowhere to be found. The worst thing that could happen to a youth player in the ODP system had happened to Shawn – he had fallen off the radar. I remember always asking the Virginia state team players about Shawn because I had taken a liking to him like he was a little brother. They said he was still pulling the strings for their Braddock Road national championship club team, but that he was tall and lanky now and not quite the same. And unfortunately in our soccer world, once you fall off the radar, chances are you will slip through the cracks and no one is going to see you on a competitive field ever again.

So in the year 2000, when I saw the name “Kuykendall“ written on our University of Virginia locker room board during the pregame scouting report, I lit up. I couldn’t wait to see the little guy who was like a little brother to me in Brazil. I had felt extremely sorry for him that he was no longer a part of the national team program because I knew how much it meant to him and how hard he had worked. Then, minutes into our game against American University, I stopped feeling bad for him.

Shawn was a beast (he would love that I’m using this term) standing at almost 6 feet, delivering crunching tackles, and leading the AU midfield. My UVA team won in a hard-fought match and I remember catching up with Shawn afterwards. As intimidating as his presence was, he was still the same 4’ 11” kind-hearted center of attention that he was when he was a 14-year-old. Over the next few years we spoke about all the adversity he had gone through and how he basically had to change how he played the game in order to become successful again. It was a complete transformation from the little midfielder who pulled the strings in the center of the field and shied away from physical contact. He had to reinvent himself.

(Shawn during his time at American)

(Shawn during his time at American)

In 2005, when Shawn was drafted by D.C. United in the MLS Supplemental Draft, I was as proud of him as anybody. To me, his story was incredible – for a guy who was considered the top talent in the nation at 13, then an afterthought at 15, and worked his way to rise above all the naysayers to become a professional at his craft – was truly inspiring. We shared a locker room for two years at D.C. United, and I have many stories I can tell about Shawn that will make you cry with laughter. Between strategically swapping jerseys with Frank Lampard after our match vs Chelsea, ping pong battles in the players’ lounge, his imitations on rookie night, YouTube home videos with this family, and breaking out random dance moves like the “Chi-town Shuffle”, Shawn had that certain it-factor that would leave an imprint on anyone that spent time with him.

Aside from his comedic side though, he was an honest worker and a fantastic teammate. And he was an even better friend – always willing to hang out or talk about whatever was on someone’s mind or debate about his beliefs on life and soccer. He even took me to my first non-denominational church, Reston Bible Church, and introduced me to everyone there the same as he had when I walked into the dorm room in Brazil at age 14. I am forever grateful for witnessing how he lived his life.

As Shawn was traded to New York Red Bulls in 2006 and we went our separate ways, he was still always quick to send me a text of support through the good times and the bad throughout my career. Whether I scored a “bombasso golazo” he saw on TV or went down injured because of a concussion, Shawn remained a true friend. Even when at times I didn’t respond, he never took it personally. He would just make a joke about it and call me out the next time, rather than holding a grudge.

Shawn was persistent and he saw the good in people, and chose not to be bothered by the baggage people oftentimes unknowingly carry around with them. So when our paths crossed again in 2010, again on the field at the University of Virginia, this time both of us as volunteer assistant coaches for our respected alma maters, I was happy to see that our friendship had survived the test of time. Between my pre-professional soccer and post-professional soccer life, you learn that there are very few people who you remain in contact with. Shawn was one of those few people for me. And in typical fashion, the first thing he said to me when we saw each other at UVA was, “Wowww, looks like you are way too cool to follow me on Twitter! I tweet you all the time and I get NO love. What’s the dealio with that Esky?”

Shawn was also joking around with me when he called me to tell me he had cancer. In typical fashion, he started laughing and said, “This would only happen to me, right?” and talked about how it was a rare minor issue that wouldn’t take long to fix. Except it wasn’t, and it didn’t. Throughout the last 8 months, Shawn continued to share Snapchats of selfies he took while at the hospital or getting treatment. In September I had lunch with another former D.C. United teammate, Nick Van Sicklen, who bluntly told me: “Esky, Shawn keeps joking about this with us but I did my research and there is a legit possibility he might die.”

I refused to believe it. There was no way. After every conversation I had with Shawn over the last 8 months, I got off the phone feeling positive about his chances for recovery and beating cancer. That is, until our last phone conversation.

When I asked Shawn how he was feeling and what he was going through, he kept finishing his responses with “… and just know that Jesus loves you.” I had an instant flashback to when we were 14-years-old, and when faced with the threat of death, Shawn began reciting those Bible verses and relying on his faith. That was the essence of Shawn. He served such a greater purpose that sometimes no one could understand where he drew his strength. He seemed calm and at peace, willing to fight every step of the way knowing in the back of his mind that he had already served his purpose. I knew things were serious and that there was nothing any of us could do. Suddenly he stopped responding to texts and calls. And then suddenly, he was gone.

Shawn has touched so many lives over the years that I am sure there will be thousands of tributes from people who can share even more amazing stories about him (including this fantastic one by Mike Foss).

Though he was taken from us far too soon, his legacy will always live on. When I began writing this, I thought about trying to list the countless things I will miss most about Shawn. But I don’t have to, because I have no doubt in my mind that he will continue to pop up again in my life, call me out, make me smile, and remind me what the right way to live is. You have set the bar incredibly high, my friend. We will miss you.

Kuykenstrong News

Shawn wins.


If you were to ask Shawn Kuykendall to tell you about the greatest play of his professional soccer career, he’d take you back to July 2005. He was standing in the middle of FedEx Field next to Frank Lampard, one of the game’s legends. Shawn was shirtless.

An MLS rookie two weeks removed from his first game with D.C. United, Shawn had been following Lampard around for the better part of 90 seconds during the closing moments of an exhibition against Chelsea FC. The final whistle sounded, and Shawn ripped off his shirt motioning to Lampard to do the same.

If you stop by Shawn’s parents’ house, you’ll see Lampard’s No. 8 jersey next to their son’s No. 28. If you ever asked Shawn about how he got Lampard to trade, he would smile ear-to-ear and with a signature wink say:

“Greatest play of my career. So bazilly.”

If you were to ask about the greatest play of Shawn Kuykendall’s life, it was the day he learned that he was going to die.

That day also happened in July, eight years after standing next to Lampard shirtless. He didn’t say “bazilly” – a term he coined to express his pure elation.

“Mike, it’s bad. I have cancer. There’s no cure.”

A quick Google search for information on Stage IV Thymic Carcinoma victims would lead you to find that there is a 24% five-year survival rate. Shawn knew the numbers before he called.

“You know, it’s fine. I have cancer. God has a plan. I’m going to fight.”

On that same day in July, while sitting in a hospital bed surrounded by friends and loved ones, Shawn took a selfie.

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A new adventure begins. #KuykenStrong

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Mozart had his music and Van Gogh had his paintings. Shawn had the selfie. He elevated the self-portrait to a level never before seen. If you dispute that, then you clearly missed his work titled “Musings in a Count Von Count Costume on Route 66.”


Shawn was given a death sentence. So he took a selfie.

Of course, he did much more than that. He started the website Kuykenstrong.com as a way of keeping people informed about his fight. It was also a platform where Shawn could share his faith with anyone who wanted to listen.

“My biggest ray of hope is that God has a purpose for me,” Shawn wrote in his first entry on the site. “And that has always been to bring glory to Christ. I believe in his ability to miraculously heal my body, but beating cancer has very little to do with beating it in an earthly sense. Cancer won’t beat me because it can’t take away my hope and joy in the salvation that Christ provides me. Is it scary?… oh yes… Is it hard?… the hardest thing I’ve ever faced… But is my sovereign God not in control? He most certainly is in control. I will hold onto that each day and fight my best to heal my body and fight each day to trust God.”

Over the next eight months, Shawn suffered. There is no doubt that he suffered. In January of 2014, he spent 27 days in Georgetown Hospital as the doctors feverishly tried to contain his pain. In the rare moments when the pain did subside, Shawn would crack a smile – always with the smile – wink, and speak the words that pushed him through six rounds of chemotherapy.

“God has a plan and I have to stick to it. If I do that, live or die, I win.”

That belief was all that he needed. It was that unshakeable faith that carried him, sustained him. It was in that commitment to God’s plan where Shawn found comfort amid incessant physical pain.

Shawn’s Christianity was an indelible part of his being. During his fight, his faith poured out of him. It’s what kept him strong.

Not everyone shared Shawn’s beliefs or inherent trust that his illness was part of a greater plan. I suspect with his passing that some will find their own beliefs shaken.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

Shawn had many friends who believed in him but didn’t believe in God. He knew this. It only made his will to trust God even stronger. It was Shawn’s faith that guided him to the very end.

Of course – as you may have suspected – this is the end.

On March 12, 2014, at 1:06 a.m., 32-year-old Shawn Kuykendall finished his fight eight months and 10 days after it began.

As I sit in the dark, I find myself wondering about the end. Was Shawn right to believe what he believed? Did it “work”? After all that pain and suffering, was faith in something he couldn’t see or even fully comprehend worth it?

The answer to that question is the greatest victory of Shawn Kuykendall’s short life.

I remember sitting on the couch with Shawn on a Saturday morning last November, watching an English Premier League game. Out of seemingly nowhere (though thinking about it now, he had probably been working on this thought for the first 60 minutes of the game), Shawn looked over at me and spoke these words, which I imagine will follow me until my end.

“I’m not really worried about death or dying, I’m not. Because here’s the thing – you know – we’re all dying. I mean, right? We’re all dying. So whether it’s tomorrow or 90 years from now, the end is going to be the same. We’re going to die.”

I hit pause on the DVR at this point because I knew he would want to come back to the game and Liverpool’s buildup play once he finished his thought.

“We are all given this great gift of life and we have this finite time to do whatever we want. So we live the best we can, and for me, that means living the way I think God wants me to live. I need God more than ever now.”

There was a pause as he rubbed his head, once full of dark flowing hair, now bald from the chemo.

“So praise be to God. I’m not going to waste time being sad or worried or scared. I have to fight. If I trust in him and fight, everything else will take care of itself.”

We sat in silence for a moment. I mean, how do you follow up a thought like that? Well, if you’re Shawn …

“But seriously, can we talk about Liverpool’s buildup play? Four passes to get up the field and a shot on goal. Four passes!? Bazilly.”

That was his essence. A thoughtful, spiritual, athletic, and vibrant soul. Shawn radiated life and love. Some people would call it style. Shawn would probably have called it swag. I believe it to be faith. Whatever “it” was, people loved him for it. Hundreds and thousands of people loved Shawn Kuykendall.

It was all very much worth it. None of it was wasted. Everything went to plan.

Shawn won.

Shawn’s memorial service will be Saturday, March 22 at 11 am at The King’s Chapel.


The King’s Chapel
12925 Braddock Rd
Clifton, VA 20124

The family asks that donations to Kuykenstrong be made in lieu of flowers.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers.

Shawn's story

Shawn is starting a new round of chemo

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Tomorrow I am back in for another round of Chemo to see if we can get ourselves back on track towards surgery.  As of now surgery is delayed as we have to contain the spread and pain in the lower back before we go in and cut out the mass in my chest.
Chemo at 11 am at Georgetown University Hospital in the infusion center.  We are changing one of the medicines up.  Need specific prayer that this change will indeed help and continue the progress and work the first 4 rounds did.  Pray for God’s specific healing of my body to remove the cancer from me.
As I ask for prayer… I am reminded that my body is not my own.  I am a vessel blessed to be given a chance to be here by God.  He may do what he wishes with my body… for it is not my own…. I’m meant for more… we are meant for more than what’s on this earth… remember that.  Be thankful for each day.
Letters from Shawn