As soon as Jack Alpert heard the click of the scissors, his heart dropped.
At the Rose Room Salon in Oxford, Alpert sat with a black cloth draped over him. His orange hair, all 15 inches of it, was parted in the middle and separated into two pigtails that extended down his back.
His barber, Kiki, stood behind him and grabbed her clippers. She snipped off the first pigtail and, with it, his identity for the last two years.
“Oh, my goodness,” Alpert said, recounting the moment. “I lost my breath for a second. I just looked into the mirror in disbelief, like, ‘Here we go.’ There’s no backing out at that point.”
Alpert, a former Miami football player who graduated with a master’s degree in December, had earned the nickname “Shaun White” because of his resemblance to the Olympic snowboarder. It began with a spur-of-the-moment decision he made two years ago.
Back in his hometown of Cleveland during a school break, he met his mother’s nurse. Alpert’s mom, Sarah, has multiple sclerosis (MS), so a nurse regularly visits her to make sure she’s doing OK. While the same nurse had been to the Alperts’ house multiple times, she had never seen Jack because he was always in Oxford for school and football.
“[The nurse] said, ‘Oh, wow, you have such beautiful, bright orange hair. You should grow it out and donate it for cancer patients,’” Alpert said. “And, it was something I had never even considered previously. I had always had short hair. And, I looked at her and just thought, ‘you know what, I’m going to do it.’”
At the time, Alpert styled his hair in a short fade. But after that day, he didn’t cut it for two years. He only trimmed it to get rid of split ends and knots.
“It was kind of tedious to have to deal with it,” Alpert said. “Maintaining such long hair, it’s a lot to take care of.”
A new collection of hair brushes, gels and sprays littered his bathroom. Due to football practice, he had to wash and condition his hair twice a day. He learned how to fix it up into ponytails and knots. He started wearing hair ties on his wrist, but quickly shifted to wrapping them around his thumb. They were too tight on his muscular arm.
Through the hair-growing process, he picked up that nickname.
“A lot of people, not just in football but all around Oxford, would call me ‘Shaun White’ everywhere I went,” Alpert said. “I got used to that. [My football coaches] called me ‘Shaun White’ just as much as they called me by my actual name.”
On Dec. 3, 2018, one day after he and his RedHawk teammates found out they weren’t invited to a bowl game, Alpert decided to cut his hair. He booked the appointment for Dec. 13.
At first, he was nervous. The hair had become one of his signature characteristics. But, as Kiki kept chopping and hair kept falling, his thoughts changed.
“It was mission accomplished,” Alpert said. “It was a crazy process. It was rewarding, in the end, to feel like you helped people out.”
Alpert’s hair, which went to Wigs For Kids, was enough to make two wigs for cancer patients. When he walked out of the salon, Alpert was rocking a short fade.
He was back to looking like his true self, and helped two kids get back to looking like theirs.