ETBU’s Ben Ashton will watch today’s game from the sideline, just like he has the past two games. The senior safety suffered a groin injury against Wisconsin-Platteville week one.
“I played all of fall camp but apparently in the very first game, it was torn but I did not know that until I fell and it tore off the bone,” Ashton explained. “I went to make a hit and the force of the impact of the ground just tore it up. Then we had the awkward 15-hour bus ride back. It was not fun.”
To say he’s faced adversity in his life would be an understatement, as that week one injury was neither the first, nor worst thing he has had to handle. In high school, he had nine Division I offers that he lost due to an injury.
“I broke my foot the day before our first game,” Ashton recalls “That’s whenever I had scouts come out to watch me. I just came down wrong and landed on the outside of my foot and broke it. I missed almost the whole year. I came back and played the last game and the first playoff game but by then, the scouts were like, ‘since you’re hurt, we’ll just give you a walk-on spot.’”
As hard as that was for Ashton, that also was not the biggest trial he has faced.
“I had cancer whenever I was 1, called ‘neuroblastoma,’” he explained. “It’s a rare type of cancer. It’s called a silent killer because it’s not found until about stage four or five and there was not a cure back then for it. They caught mine just before stage two. I went in for a checkup after I was born and the nurse ran all the basic tests and said I looked fine and healthy. Then she said she didn’t feel comfortable so she ran one more test and they found a golf-ball-sized tumor attached to my spine.”
Fortunately, the cancer was caught at an early stage and the tumor was successfully removed.
“Whenever I had the surgery, my mom said the doctor came out in tears,” Ashton said. “So my mom was concerned, like, ‘Did the surgery go well or not?’ and she (the doctor) said she got it all out and that I was cancer free. Whenever my mom walked into where I was, she said she saw two angels, one on the left side and one on the right side, with their wings over me, and she saw their wings lift up and heard the voice of God say, ‘I protected him. He’s healed.’ She got a verse, Psalm 91:11, which says, ‘He will command his angels to guard and protect you.’ So that’s been my life verse.”
Despite the fact the cancer was removed, doctors didn’t think Ashton would be able to walk, nonetheless, play football.
“For them to take the tumor out, they had to cut a bunch of nerves because the tumor was so big,” Ashton continued. “When they cut the nerves out, it messed up my speech, my eye colors and the way I sweat. Only one eye reacts to light. I only sweat on only one side of my body. I tend to overheat quick and I can’t control it because my body tries to cool down on my right side, making me sweat more on my left side. Nobody knows how to fix it because there’s not much research about the cancer. That’s why I try to wear a particular visor too because of how my eye reacts to light. When they check for a concussion, they only check my left eye because as of now, if you check my right eye, it will say I have a concussion, which I don’t, and my eyes are two extremely different colors and my speech got messed up too from whenever they cut the nerves. So I’ve had to deal with it my whole life.
“Whenever I overheat, there’s a straight line down my face and one side is red and one side is white,” he added. “It’s like I’m wearing a mask, that’s how distinct the line is. I’ve just had to deal with that stuff my whole life and I’ve been able to make the most of it and still play in college.”
Ashton said his circumstances often help motivate his teammates.
“When it’s a tough day and it’s hot and then they see me trying to push through it, I’ll be on my knees, some of the players are like, ‘We don’t have an excuse,’” Ashton offered. “’We should not be tired before Ben.’ So there’s a standard of how hard you push yourself for the team.”
“When we talk about desire to play football and what a blessing it is to play football, there’s no reason not to go as hard as you can because there’s a guy like Ben who’s just blessed to be alive and he gets to play a game,” ETBU head football coach Brian Mayper said.
“Just the fact we’re able to go out and play when so many people aren’t able to should be motivation itself.”
Ashton said the game of football helps serve as a good distraction.
“I feel like whenever I play, I don’t have to be concerned with my speech and I don’t really think of how I sweat until I have to go cool down,” he added. “I feel like I’m free whenever I play. I’ve had a lot of injuries, too, so because of those, it gives me a will to fight on and push through adversity.”
Despite this year being his senior year, Ashton still has one more year of eligibility to play football.
“I know I’m going to come back for one more year of football,” he said.
“After that, I want to try to play semipro somewhere that is cold to where I don’t have to deal with my sweat as much. I feel like that’s what I would like to try for a few years after I graduate but while I try to do that, I’m going to try to be a nurse tech at a hospital and hopefully be a nurse manager later on.
“I want to be remembered as a player who never gave up and never let his circumstances define him,” he concluded.