Why I ride: a mother's journey by Heather, Ashlyn's mother
I am a Sports Massage Therapist and have volunteered with the sports massage team to support the Courage Classic cyclists at Copper Mountain for about eight years now.
When my daughter, Ashlyn, was almost 4 months old, she came with me for Courage Classic weekend. My aunt stayed with her and strolled around the village while I was working on the cyclists. It was a fantastic weekend full of inspiration. Everyone's story of why they rode and how they came to support Children's Hospital Colorado through the Courage Classic became a highlight of my year. I looked forward to returning each summer.
The days leading up to the 2011 Courage Classic were the same as previous years. Ashlyn, then 5 years old, stayed home with her dad and her 2-year-old sister Delaney. The previous week, we were in Missouri at a family reunion and Ashlyn had been complaining of headaches each morning. I chalked it up to dehydration, late nights and vacation eating. She began to throw up occasionally, and I became concerned. Before I went away for the weekend and left my husband, Blair, with both girls, I took her to our pediatrician's office. The doctor thought it appeared to be a virus, but she wanted to monitor Ashlyn closely, since it was unusual for a young child to have consistent headaches.
While Ashlyn's symptoms were developing, I had a difficult decision to make. My dad was due to have a heart procedure in Grand Junction the day before the Courage Classic. Blair agreed to take the day off to be with Ashlyn and monitor her illness. I headed to Grand Junction, and Friday morning I went to be with my mom during my dad's procedure. It was a tough decision to choose between my dad and my sick child, but Ashlyn was in great hands with Blair. My dad's procedure was a success, and when he was out of the woods, I called Blair to check in. He informed me that the pediatrician had called and wanted him to take Ashlyn to the Children's Colorado Emergency Department for some tests before the weekend, just as a precaution. I told him I would cancel my plans for the Courage Classic, pack my bags and head back to Denver.
As I made my way back from Grand Junction, I called Blair. He said that the ER doctor indicated that Ashlyn passed her neurological tests and that they suspected it was a virus; however, they wanted her to have a CAT scan to rule out other possibilities. I proceeded to Vail and checked in with Blair again. This time, everything changed.
Blair asked me to pull over because it was serious. He said the CAT scan revealed a brain tumor and hydrocephalus. They were going to take Ashlyn back for an MRI, and then we would talk to a neurosurgeon. "A neurosurgeon or a neurologist?" I asked. He responded with neurosurgeon and said Ashlyn would likely go in for surgery in the morning. I was three hours away and I wasn't able to be there for my baby. What was she feeling? What was she thinking? Was she scared? How could I compose myself and get to her quickly, but safely? I was a mess. I called my mom, because that is what you do. When you are sick or hurting you want your mom. She calmed me down and helped me realize I needed to get myself together to be the best I could be for Ashlyn. I regained my composure and prayed all the way to Denver. I couldn't believe I would be spending the weekend at Children's Colorado using their services instead of working to raise money for them at the Courage Classic.
Ashlyn means "vision or dream" in Irish, and her middle name is Hope. We chose that name for her because she was our vision or dream of hope when we became pregnant with her. Morgan, her older sister, had passed away at 4 1/2 months old from complications due to Down syndrome. Now, I realized I could lose Ashlyn too--she was my "hope". Luckily, I made the three hour drive safely to Children's Colorado. Dr. Wilkinson (Ashlyn's neurosurgeon) had waited for my arrival before going home that evening. He explained that Ashlyn had a tactile glioma brain tumor that was blocking the flow of cerebral spinal fluid out of the brain. He explained how complicated the surgery was, and that there were several possible outcomes – most of which were not great. We would get through that night anxiously waiting.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Ashlyn and I were awakened by a member of the surgical team. Ashlyn asked if we could say a prayer. I said absolutely. She prayed that God would be with the doctors when they worked on her and with the family while she had her operation. She also asked that a lot of people come to visit her while she was at the hospital (and they did). That is when I realized I truly needed a piece of hope.
Ashlyn had been riding behind my bike on a tag-a-long earlier that summer. I told her that after she got through her surgery we would train for the Courage Classic in 2012 and help to give back for all they would do for us. She thought that sounded like a good idea. It gave us something to hope for and a purpose on which to focus.
The staff at Children's Colorado was amazing! Everyone took incredible care of us. They weren't just there for our daughter, but for our entire family. Ashlyn came out of her surgery with the best possible outcome. In the follow-up visits, Dr. Wilkinson totally connected with Ashlyn and discussed "Tinkerbell" facts with her. He said he had a daughter close to her age, so he knew all the lingo.
Ashlyn started kindergarten three weeks after surgery and hasn't missed a beat. She is doing remarkably well and leads the life of a regular kindergartener (with a few extra visits to Children's Colorado on our agenda than most families in her class). Children's Colorado gave us our vision or dream of hope back, and hope for our family.
That is why I ride.
Support Ashlyn's, Heather's and Blair's Courage Classic ride!
They will be riding on Team Courage this year.