Ashley Wile, the recipient of the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Most Courageous Award, is a Rambler at heart.
Wile competed in the 2013-14 cross country season, and up until then she was making big strides in her running career at Loyola. She had crushed personal records in some events and set new records in others. Things could not have been going better for Wile.
But at the end of that successful season in her junior year, Wile noticed a lump under her arm. From then on she grew sicker each day.
At first doctors told Wile that it was just the flu, but she knew that it had to be something more.
“I was expecting it to be some weird strain of mono,” said Wile.
She called her mom and went home early for Thanksgiving break to meet with doctors in Michigan. After undergoing further testing, Wile was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
After her diagnosis, Wile was forced to miss both the indoor and outdoor track seasons in 2013-14 to undergo treatment every week for six months. Wile’s doctors wanted her to focus on getting better and staying healthy, which meant she had to give up running, an activity that was especially hard for her to let go of.
“Every day I woke up and I was drinking my coffee and I’m like, I just want to get out and run,” Wile said.
Her teammates knew it was not easy for Wile to stop running.
“She loves running more than anyone else I know. That’s her passion in life,” said Ally Spiroff, Wile’s best friend, roommate and teammate. “Her not being able to do it I know was hard and she was pretty down about it, pretty bummed out.”
Not only was it hard for Wile to adjust to no longer being able to run, but her teammates had to get used to not having her around every day.
“It was really hard at first, and it was especially hard because I couldn’t really imagine exactly what she was going through,” Spiroff said. “It was hard for a while, but then a lot of what really helped me get through it was my awesome teammates.”
The whole team stuck together for support, wearing purple — the color used to bring awareness to Hodkin’s lymphoma — every time Wile underwent chemotherapy.
Assistant Coach Jacquelyn Kropp described Wile as one of the hardest workers on the team. Kropp said Wile was always excited at practice to do whatever workout was in store. While Wile was in treatment, Kropp would send her the workouts every week so she was able to stay engaged with the team in some way.
“It was definitely tough. She is a big part of the team and has a bright personality. It was something you could notice [was missing] on a daily basis,” said Kropp.
Wile credited her teammates and her support in both Chicago and Michigan for motivating her during treatment.
“It’s kind of weird because I don’t consider myself courageous for this. It was just something you have to do. You got to do everything you can to try to beat it,” Wile said. “It was kind of an inner thing and an inner dialogue with myself the whole time telling myself to just keep going.”
Trying to motivate herself, Wile would write her own personal mantra on her hand before every race: “keep moving forward.”
To encourage Wile to stay positive, her teammates turned the phrase into an inspirational Twitter hashtag: “#KeepMovingForward.”
“The whole running community on Twitter started tweeting at me,” Wile said. “These Olympians are like, ‘Keep moving forward, Ashley!’ It was really cool.”
Wile finished treatment on a Thursday, late in May 2014. She began running again the very next day.
“It wasn’t far, it was like a half mile, and I was in incredible amounts of pain the whole time. I was just so happy to be done and to be doing it,” Wile said.
From there, Wile began working closely with Kropp and slowly building her strength back up. Since Wile was still in recovery and did not want to overstrain herself, the duo worked together to make sure Wile always maintained a balance between working hard and getting enough rest.
“Jackie is my coach and also like my therapist … and like my big sister,” Wile said. “I always go to her whenever I’m struggling with something and I don’t want to burden my friends with it. She’s always there for me.”
Wile was honored with the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Most Courageous Award earlier this month. On Jan. 11, she was recognized on the floor at Gentile Arena in front of a near-capacity crowd of about 4,000 fans who were in attendance for Loyola’s men’s basketball game against Wichita State. Everyone who attended the game rose to their feet, giving Wile a standing ovation.
She explained that, although she enjoyed the moment, she was nervous standing in front of so many people.
“I was happy I didn’t have to say anything. Otherwise I would have been profusely sweating even though I kind of already was,” Wile joked. “It was incredible. I wasn’t expecting everybody to start standing up. I was just shocked.”
Wile continued her return to the team when she competed at the Illini Classic Indoor Track and Field meet on Jan. 17.
Wile is viewing this season of indoor and outdoor track and field as a build-up year. She has no goals set for herself because she is still getting a feel for where she is in training.
“I’m just going to take each race as it is, and just hope that by the summer I’m fit and going into my cross country training. And then next year I’ll focus on bringing the house down,” she said.
After this season, Wile will move into her final year of eligibility with the Ramblers while she begins an MBA program. Wile looks to stay involved with her passion for running by working on the business side of the sport later in her career.
“I would like to work on the other side of it, the business side of it, and kind of work for like Brooks or Nike or something like that,” Wile said. “I think that would be pretty rad.”
As for the MVC Most Courageous Award plaque, Wile said that it is currently sitting on her dresser, although she has plans to mail it to her parents so they can display it in their home and proudly show it to their friends.
Wile modestly explained that she has no plans to hang the plaque up in her living room.
“I feel like it’s kind of pretentious for me to hang it up in my apartment. I’d feel like Ron Burgundy, like ‘I have many leather-bound books.’”