Shawn Barber, a former Olympic pole vaulter and gold medalist at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, died on January 17, 2024, at his home in Kingwood, Texas at age 29. According to the Associated Press. Shawn’s agent, Paul Doyle, confirmed the news the following day, On January 18. No cause of death has been released, but the news organization reported that the athlete had been experiencing unspecified “health issues” and died from “medical complications.”
“More than just an incredible athlete, Shawn was such a good-hearted person that always put others ahead of himself,” Paul said in a statement. “It’s tragic to lose such a good person at such a young age.”
Amid the news, here’s what to know about the life of the remarkable young athlete.
Shawn Was Canadian
Shawn was born in 1994 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but his father was from Ontario, Canada. Growing up after his parents’ divorce, Shawn spent time in both Toronto and the U.S. Despite graduating from high school in Houston, Texas, the athlete claimed Toronto as his hometown during competitive track and field events.
He also competed for Canada throughout his career, saying it was because the country placed more importance on his chosen sport — and because his father, George Barber, competed in the pole vault for Canada at the 1983 World Championships.
Shawn held dual Canadian-American citizenship, and he’s also survived by his mother, Ann, and brother, David.
He Had a Unique Name
Though in the media he was known as simply Shawn Barber, the talented pole vaulter was actually born Shawnacy Campbell Barber.
He Was a Champion in College
Shawn attended University of Akron in Ohio, where he clinched back-to-back NCAA indoor championships in 2014 and 2015 for the pole vault. In 2015, he doubled down on his success with an NCAA outdoor championship, as well. He’d make 2015 a banner year by emerging triumphant with the gold at the Pan-Am Games that summer.
Shawn is a Canadian Record Holder
He achieved his career pinnacle with a top vault of six meters (19 feet, 8 ¼ inches) on January 15, 2016, in Reno, Nevada. The mark was a record, and it remains the Canadian record to this day. Shawnacy competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, and placed 10th, despite adverse weather conditions.
Shawn Came Out in 2017
On April 24, 2017, Shawn took to Facebook to publicly come out as gay in a since-removed post. “Gay and proud!” he wrote via the social media platform, per Outsports. “Thank you to my parents for being such a great support. I continue to grow as a person and have a great support group. My parents are my greatest support and have helped me through a lot recently. To my friends, you are always my friends and i love you too!”