LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Before Chris Jennings got to the University of Lynchburg, the two-sport athlete was already growing his hair out. It was an act of rebellion after years of attending a private school.
But his rare haircut this past summer was an act of selflessness in honor of a close friend.
“I always wanted to have longer hair in high school,” Jennings said. “Especially during the lacrosse season because I just felt that it was cool and the players that I looked up to that were playing in college when I was in middle school and high school, they all had long hair so I was like I want to be like them.”
Whether it was on the lacrosse field or in the pool, it was easy to spot Jennings by the length of his hair.
“It was probably down to my shoulders. My hair was curly so once it straightened out, it looks a lot longer,” Jennings said. “You can ask some of the swimmers because after practice when I got out of the water, the water made it look even longer. So it was down my back.”
This summer, he chopped it off. Nine and a half inches of it.
“It’s definitely weird because it’s been so long since I last cut my hair,” Jennings said.
When the Tampa, Florida-native cut his hair in August, on his mind was his friend, Cailin Cannella.
“We both swam breaststroke and we’re both sprint freestylers in high school. So we often had to train together,” Jennings said. “She was one of the top swimmers for her age in the state at the time and so she was able to keep up with all the high school guys.”
In September 2016, Cannella was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that usually affects children.
“I would go play cards with her while she was continuing to recover from chemo treatments at the hospital. And I think that just really grew our connection more than anything else is when I was able to go to the hospital to see her,” Jennings said. “When she got her wig about halfway through her treatment, I saw the smile that put on her face.”
Cannella passed a way a year after her initial diagnosis. She was 14.
“The fact that she continued to fight until the last couple of weeks and that’s what really showed me,” Jennings said. “I thought about it, when I was growing my hair out in college, I sort of thought about the smile that it had put on her face and thought about, if I’m able to do that for someone else, then maybe that can cause a reaction of one of their friends doing something.”
Jennings donated his hair to Children with Hair Loss, an organization creates wigs for young cancer patients.
“Knowing that growing my hair out could do that for someone that I didn’t even know, it was really a no-brainer taking that opportunity to put someone else’s day, and turn it good. And put a smile on their face,” Jennings said.
And the Lynchburg junior plans to donate his hair again to honor the memory of Cailin Cannella.
“I do like having it short after it being long for so long,” Jennings said. “But I also really liked my long hair. And so, I’ll let it grow out and sort of see where I am with lacrosse, swimming and everything that is going on.”