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Shawn Barber, Canadian Pole Vault Champion, Dies of Medical Complications at 29

World-champion pole vaulter Shawnacy “Shawn” Barber, who holds Canada’s pole vault record, has died at the age of 29, his agent confirmed in an Instagram post on Thursday.

Barber died from medical complications at his home in Kingwood, Texas, on Wednesday, his agent Paul Doyle told media. 

“More than just an incredible athlete, Shawn was such a good-hearted person that always put others ahead of himself,” Doyle said. “It’s tragic to lose such a good person at such a young age.”

Barber had been experiencing poor health for some time after falling ill, according to a statement by the University of Akron Department of Athletics, where he was a student-athlete in the track and field program from 2013 to 2015.

Barber is survived by his parents Ann and George, a former Canadian pole vaulter and pole vault coach, and brother David. 

The dual U.S.-Canadian citizen split his youth between Toronto and New Mexico, where he was born and learned as a child how to throw himself over a ditch at the farm where his family lived using his dad’s old equipment. Barber first competed when he was seven years old.

“It was a lot of fun,” Barber told MileSplit in 2012, when he was the U.S.’s best high school pole vaulter. “I didn’t really understand it. I saw it as a game, something to do to pass the time hanging at the barn. I still see it as fun, but I also see it as something that can take me places.”

Barber went on to become the NCAA indoor champion in 2014 and 2015 as well as outdoor champion in 2015. The University of Akron’s athletics department described Barber as “a well-liked teammate and competitor” with a “distinguished collegiate career.”

Barber competes during the men’s pole vault event at the IAAF World Challenge Zlata Tretra (Golden Spike) athletics tournament in Ostrava-Vítkovice, Czech Republic, on May 20, 2016.Michal Cizek—AFP/Getty Images

In 2015, Barber won gold medals at the Pan American Games in Toronto and then at the World Championships in Beijing—where he took home Canada’s first world medal in pole vaulting, as well as the country’s first athletics world title since 2003.

At the 2016 Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada, Barber set Canada’s record clearance at six meters (19 feet, 8 ¼ inches).

Later that year, he entered the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro gunning for gold—and was narrowly allowed to compete after testing positive for a trace amount of cocaine he claimed to have accidentally ingested—but ended in tenth place

Though he rarely discussed his personal life publicly, Barber came out as gay in 2017 in a social media post.

The same year, he told Digital Journal that he’s drawn to pole vaulting because, “it’s a very pure sport and it’s very easy to measure. It takes a little bit of craziness sometimes to do it, and not everybody can handle it.” He added: “Everybody wants to be the best, and it just depends on who puts the time and effort into it, and who comes out on top at the end of the day.”

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