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From left: Tracy Ash, Colby Ash, Riley Ash and E.B. Ash move Colby into his room in July.

‘Living His Best Life’: Freshman doesn’t let medical issues earlier in life define him

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Media Contact: Sydney Trainor | Communications Specialist | 405-744-9782 | sydney.trainor@okstate.edu

Just as Colby Ash started learning to walk, he suddenly stopped. 

For months, doctors ran diagnostic tests on the 2-year-old, trying to figure out the cause of fevers Ash had recently developed, which contributed to his lack of movement. But they remained a mystery. 

As Ash’s illness progressed, his lymph nodes began to enlarge, prompting the doctors to run more bloodwork, testing for illnesses like mononucleosis. 

At 28 months old, Ash was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma. 

He was covered from the top of his head to the tip of his toes with hundreds of tumors. The original tumor was the size of a small football and located in his abdomen area, attached to his aorta.

He endured seven rounds of chemo, one 18-hour tumor resection surgery, two weeks of total-body radiation, two bone marrow transplants and hundreds of blood draws.

In 2006, when Ash was 3, after his second and final bone marrow transplant, he relapsed. It sent him into a new category — 0% survival rate with three to six months to live. He had gone from critical to condemned.

To keep him comfortable, and give him a semblance of a quality of life, Ash was given trial chemo intended to keep the tumors at bay. However, his body couldn’t handle such a high dose of radiation.

The doctors decided to switch him to a low dose every day. Then, something amazing happened. The lower doses started to work and slowly, the tumors began to disappear. 

Ash’s parents, E.B. and Tracy Ash, said it was a harrowing time, but were thankful for the support of doctors, nurses and family. 

“When he turned 6, we received the best news ever. He was officially considered NED [No Evidence of Disease] and then 10 years later, he was officially cancer free at 16,” Tracy Ash said.

She jokingly considers Colby a cat — he has nine lives. 

“He has really overcome a lot of health issues that he really shouldn’t have, and he’s fought through them,” she said. “He’s like this quiet little stick of dynamite.”

Colby Ash is 19 now and unless his parents tell him the stories, he doesn’t remember being sick and in the hospital because he was so young. He remembers going to the doctor for scans but he doesn’t remember things like recovering from surgery. 

On July 29, with the help of his parents and younger brother Riley Ash, Colby loaded up his Toyota Tacoma and left College Station, Texas, to move into his room on campus at Oklahoma State University. 

Moving Colby Ash to college is an experience his mother didn’t know she would get to have 17 years ago when he was given a 0% survival rate. Now, he is living his dream of working with the OSU football program’s video staff. 

“He shouldn’t be here and he shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t have turned 13 or 16, or have graduated from high school, or be going to college” Tracy Ash said. “He’s living his best life and going to the university that he’s wanted to go to for the last four years and he’s going to film for the football team that he’s fallen in love with.”

Colby Ash doesn’t let being a cancer survivor define who he is, though. Instead, he uses his passion for football to help players be successful on and off the field. 

Due to his cancer treatments, stands at 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 70 pounds.

He knew playing football wasn’t an option for him, but he wanted to be involved in the sport through any available opportunity. 

“He has such a passion for the game; it’s like he sees it from a different perspective,” Tracy Ash said. 

He grew up watching the game and has extensive knowledge of the sport. When Colby Ash was a high school freshman, one of his coaches, Kyle Walsh, introduced him to the film crew as a way for him to be a part of the team. He took that opportunity to the next level.

Colby Ash
As part of the OSU video staff, Colby Ash films practice, home games and occasionally, away games. Photo by: Bruce Waterfield

Walsh connected him with Zack Ramsey, director of video for OSU football. As part of the video staff, he films home games and practices, plus he gets to travel to two away games. 

“The students on our video staff are essential to the success of our football program,” Ramsey said. “Colby is off to a tremendous start. We are excited to have him.”

Filming keeps Colby Ash involved in the game, and his work helps the players improve and build clips to share with NFL scouts. It also gives him a great seat to learn from the players and coaches in preparation for a prospective coaching career.

“It seems like he really enjoys football and wants to help people,” E.B. Ash said. “For about the last four years, all he’s wanted to do is just be a coach.”

Colby watched his high school coach, Steve Huff, lead practices and take the team to the state championship game. Those experiences inspired him to pursue a coaching career to teach kids the sport and watch them grow.

“I look up to coach Mike Gundy because that’s what I want to be one day,” he said.

He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in applied exercise science: sport and coaching science through the School of Kinesiology, Applied Health and Recreation with the goal of eventually being a college coach. 

But until then, you can find Colby Ash on the 50-yard line with a bird’s-eye view from the top of Boone Pickens Stadium filming every practice and game. 

“The first games and practices went by super fast,” he said. “The first two games were super overwhelming, but I was very excited to be filming for Cowboy football.” 

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