Haines grew up in Marietta, playing soccer with his younger brother Davis, now 17. He was featured in the MDJ as a two-sport athlete after kicking for the Kennesaw Mountain High School football team his senior year as well as playing soccer.
He graduated from KMHS in 2011 alongside his girlfriend, Jamie Thomas, whom he had met in math class that year.
That summer, Haines began as a freshman at Kennesaw State University where he started taking classes toward a sports marketing degree. Thomas said her sister used to sneak him fried chicken and mac and cheese from the school cafeteria.
Gregarious and with a big appetite for food and friends, Haines pledged Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity his first semester and was known for always wearing a bowtie to class.
“Every Saturday, he would come over and watch football games. He was a Georgia fan, and I’m a Louisiana fan,” said Will Potts, Haines’ older brother in the fraternity. “We would help each other out. We would make jambalaya. He would eat anything.”
Another fraternity brother, Scott Bendolph, remembers getting ice cream with Haines at the college cafeteria. Haines’ favorite? Vanilla and chocolate mix.
Haines completed his first semester with a 4.0 GPA and in December 2011 left for a vacation with Thomas’s family to Missouri. Out of nowhere, Carter had a seizure.
“It was really scary. He wouldn’t wake up for anything,” Thomas said.
Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, and in January, Haines returned to school. Within a few weeks, his eyesight in his right eye began to wane.
“They thought it was a sty or something,” said fraternity brother Scott Bendolph. “Later on they figured out he had a brain tumor, and from there, we saw the deterioration of him.”
Haines moved home to Marietta and began rounds of intense chemotherapy and treatment at
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Thomas, who had a softball scholarship at Shorter University in Rome, immediately declined the cholarship, transferred to KSU and took the spring semester off to be with Haines.
Doctors knew the tumor found in Haines’ brain was inoperable, and Carter’s father, Joe Haines, said the family understood this tumor would kill his son.
“It was really hard to see someone who was so lively deteriorate,” Bendolph said.
For the next 11 months, Haines lived at home, and after losing his hair and much of his eyesight, continued to watch college football games with family and eat daily breakfasts of grits, sausage, eggs and oatmeal.
Despite his imminent death, Haines remained happy and hungry, his father said.
“That was the most amazing part because he knew that he was not going to be cured, but he was never mad or didn’t seem sad. He was always just pleasant and it was a nice year to spend with him,” Joe Haines said.
His only complaint: “I just wish I could see it better.”
On Feb. 26, 2013, Carter died.
His death shook the KSU campus, friends said, and a year later, Haines’s fraternity brothers have raised $8,000 for the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children in Atlanta. After watching her boyfriend die from a brain tumor, Thomas changed her major at KSU to nursing, and aspires to work on the brain tumor and blood disorder floor at Children’s Hospital.
His fraternity brother Potts, now 23, has since graduated from KSU but keeps Haines close to his heart. In December 2012, Potts ran the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon in Haines’ name, wearing a shirt that read “I am Carterstrong.”
The phrase went viral. It was picked up by many members of the fraternity and friends at KSU started printing the logo on T-shirts and painting the letters on their chests at races across the country.
On Saturday, hundreds of Carter’s friends, his parents and younger brother, will participate in a 5K in his name. Many will wear T-shirts with the phrase “Carterstrong” written on them, in efforts to raise money for brain tumor research.
Bendolph hopes to raise at least $10,000 with Saturday’s race, which begins at 8 a.m. at The Perch at Kennesaw State University.
Details of the race can be found online at active.com, under the name “Founders Day 5K.”
WHAT: 5K race in memory of Carter Haines
WHERE: The Perch at Kennesaw State University, 390 Big Shanty Road
WHEN: Saturday, 8 a.m.
HOW: Sign up or donate money at: active.com “Founder’s Day 5K”