It??s rare a 22-year-old college football player knows the difference between love and being in love, but that??s not the case for Ben Pike.
Pike, a Senior at The University of Toledo loves the game he??s played his entire life, but he is in love with his fianc, Ashlee Barrett. The difference was never more apparent when Pike decided to forgo his final year of college football in order to tend to his cancer stricken fianc.
Barrett was forced to see a doctor after she had weeks of lower back pain and trouble sitting down. After many tests she learned in April 2012 she had Leukemia.
??I was mad, but then you kind of realize, you settle down. It doesn??t do any good being mad,?? says Pike. ??You??re just wasting energy. Being mad isn??t going to take the cancer away. It??s not going to make your day any easier so I try to focus on being the support and the rock for her and being whatever I can for her because I know that??s what she needs.??
Barrett had already graduated from Toledo and was back in her hometown of St. Louis receiving treatment, which was a success. Barrett and Pike were officially in the clear as she was in remission.
Then, in January, Pike opened the door to his parents at his home in Toledo.
??I immediately knew something was wrong,?? says Pike. It??s like the wind gets taken out of you cause you think you??re out of the woods and then all of a sudden you realize you??re nowhere close and you got to start this process all over again.??
The cancer had returned.
Barrett is still in St. Louis going through her chemotherapy. Pike flies from Detroit every Friday morning to sit by her side as she battles for her life. But, during the week they must resort to phone and Skype conversations.
??It??s unbelievable. I??ll call and say 'how ya doing' and she??ll say 'good' and I know she??s lying,?? says Pike. ??She always tries to be so strong. Just to see her go through this and take everything in stride with such grace and such beauty and a positive attitude is such an inspiration to me every day.??
??Our whole motto through this whole thing is ??faith not fear.?? We know God is going to take this bad situation and turn it into something good and we??ve already seen that happen with the amount of support we??ve gotten and people saying what an inspiration Ashlee and our love story is. It??s cool to see some positive come out of something that??s been so negative in our lives.??
The first time he visited his fianc in the hospital she grabbed his hand and said, ??I??m glad it??s me and not you.??
??There was so much emotion in the room at the time, and for her to look at me and say that while she??s going through the worst thing that??s ever happened to her just speaks to her selflessness and what a loving and caring person she is. It just speaks to what kind of soul she has,?? says Pike.
The two former Rocket athletes met in Athletes in Action, a bible study for athletes. Pike was a freshman and Barrett was a junior basketball star who just received word she needed career ending knee surgery. From that moment on the two were inseparable.
But the extraordinary part is how they actually met says Pike, ??Hindsight 20/20 it??s a pretty remarkable thing that we even met.??
Barrett started her collegiate career at Evansville. However, when her head coach, Tricia Cullop, took the job at Toledo, Barrett was right behind her with transfer papers.
Two years later, Pike is being offered scholarships by many MAC schools to play football. But, Toledo was not one. But in the 11th hour his would be team revoked their offer and UT took advantage. Pike became a Rocket and the rest is history.
Every day is a struggle for the couple but doesn??t stop their love from growing. ??I tell her I can??t put my love into words for you. It??s too big. Somehow every day I learn to love her a little bit more than I did the day before. We know she??s going to make a full recovery and be that beautiful bride that she wants to be.??