Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho sends touching letter of support to the Kuykendall family

Early last week, Chelsea captain Frank Lampard sent signed uniforms to Kuykenstrong, the Kuykendall family, and American University. It turns out, Lampard wasn’t the only member of the English soccer giants who was moved by Shawn’s story.

Chelsea manager sent the following note the Kuykendall family as well …

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It reads:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kuykendall,

I was deeply saddened to hear of your son’s passing. I can only imagine the grief of a parent losing a child and my heart goes out to you both.

I hope you and your family find great strength in the shared memories of Shawn’s life at this toughest of times and also in the future.

The football family has lost a fine young man, and everyone’s thoughts at Chelsea FC are with you, your family and Shawn’s friends.

With much sympathy,

Yours sincerely,

Jose Mourinho

Kuykenstrong News

Frank Lampard donates Chelsea jersey in memory of Shawn

Chelsea captain Frank Lampard played a defining role in Shawn’s first appearance for D.C. United. Lampard and Shawn played against each other during an exhibition, and after traded jerseys. When Lampard heard of Shawn’s passing, he wanted to send his support to the Kuykendall family.

Lampard did just that earlier today.

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His message reads:

To the Kuykendall Family
In Memory of Shawn
Frank Lampard

Kuykenstrong News

MLS goes #Kuykenstrong this weekend

Major League Soccer came together to honor Shawn by wearing black armbands in conjunction with MLS Works. D.C. United held a moment of silence before their match against the Chicago Fire in honor of their former midfielder. Many other clubs around the league paid tribute to Shawn as well.

(Courtesy MLS/USA TODAY Sports Images)

(Courtesy DC United, MLS/USA TODAY Sports Images)

(Courtesy MLS/USA TODAY Sports Images)

(Courtesy DC United, MLS/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Beyond MLS, U.S. Women’s National team star Ali Krieger supported Kukykenstrong along with her Washinton Spirit teammates.

To learn more about our mission at Kuykenstrong, please click here. To learn more about MLS Works, please click here.

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Welcome to the Kuykenstrong Foundation

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The Kuykenstrong Foundation mission is to support children suffering from pediatric cancer and their families. Founded in memory of former Major League Soccer player Shawn Kuykendall, Kuykenstrong strives to honor Shawn’s legacy and love of the beautiful game and go beyond finances in our support of those fighting cancer.

Partnering with Georgetown University Hospital, Kuykenstrong works with Dr. Aziza T. Shad, Chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology to support their patients, families, and doctors. Georgetown University is on the cutting edge of cancer research and offers some of the most comprehensive treatment in the nation. Such inclusive care is made possible by the support and funding of foundations like Kuykenstrong.

Our staff has organized visits to Georgetown to spend with the patients and their families, providing comfort and resources. These visits would not be possible without the generosity of our donors.

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Thank you for visiting and stay Kuykenstrong.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

– 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!

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– 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.

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– 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.”

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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.

DING.

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.

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DING.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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