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From left: Tracy Ash, Colby Ash, Riley Ash and E.B. Ash at Colby's move-in day in July.

‘Living His Best Life’: New 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 had 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 mono. 

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 years old, after his second and final bone marrow transplant, Colby 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 little body couldn’t handle such a high dose of chemo.

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

Ash’s parents, E.B. and Tracy Ash, agreed this was one of the most difficult times they’ve experienced. The support from doctors, nurses and family is what helped them during such an unknowing time.

“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 said.

Tracy 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,” Tracy said. “He's like this quiet little stick of dynamite.”

Colby 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. 

Colby Ash is a freshman at OSU who underwent several procedures when he was younger after being diagnosed with state IV neuroblastoma when he was 2.

On July 29, with the help of his parents and younger brother Riley, Colby loaded up his Toyota Tacoma and left College Station, Texas, to move into his freshman dorm at Oklahoma State University. There, he will get to be a part of the football program’s video staff. 

Moving Colby to college is an experience Tracy didn't know she would get to have 17 years ago when he was given a 0% survival rate.

“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 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 get to film for the football team that he's fallen in love with.”

Colby 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. 

Colby knew playing football wasn’t an option for him, but as with any Texan, 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 said. 

Due to his cancer treatments, Colby is 4 foot 11 inches tall and weighs 70 pounds, making him too small to play football.

He grew up watching the game and has extensive knowledge of the sport. As 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 and Colby took that opportunity to the next level.

Walsh connected Colby with Zack Ramsey, director of video for OSU football. As part of the video staff, he will film 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 involved in the game, and it helps the players improve as well as have clips to share with NFL scouts. It also gives Colby a great seat to learn from the players and coaches in preparation for his coaching career.

“It seems like he really enjoys football and wants to help people,” E.B. 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, at practice and lead the team to the state championship game. Those experiences inspired Colby to pursue a coaching career to teach kids the sport and watch them improve over time. 

“I look up to Coach Mike Gundy because that's what I want to be one day,” Colby said.

Colby 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 you can find Colby on the 50 yard line with a birds eye view from the top of Boone Pickens Stadium filming every practice and game. 

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

He is excited about his future at OSU and the opportunity to meet new friends and grow his football knowledge. 

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