For former Toledo athletes, love is conquering all

Life has come at former Toledo defensive end Ben Pike as fast as any lead blocker ever did. 

A few months after giving up his final year of college football, Pike has a college degree, two jobs, and on Saturday he’ll have a wife.

It’s what he’d hoped to have — especially the wife part. 

Pike walked away from football after the 2012 season to spend more time with his fiancee, former Toledo women’s basketball player Ashlee Barrett, as she battled leukemia. In the 2013 calendar year Pike has completed his student teaching requirement, graduated and landed a job teaching and coaching high school football in Barrett’s hometown of St. Louis.

In April, Barrett had a stem cell transplant that doctors have deemed a success. Though Pike said the day after the transplant that their June 15 wedding was going to happen “come hell or high water,” there were still obstacles to overcome. 

Barrett still gets tired, and she still has days that are better than others. But doctors are telling her that she’s taken to the donor cells, and that she’s on the road to recovery. Maybe she’s making herself more tired with all of this wedding stuff she’s been working on.

“We’re ready to get this show on the road,” Pike said. 

On Saturday, they’ll start down the road as Mr. and Mrs. Pike. 

“She gets stronger every day,” Pike said. “We’re glad we’re here and that chapter is behind us, at least hopefully. She’s going to live with it for several years to come, but we’re excited and relieved by what we hear from the doctors.”

In April, Toledo brought one of its spring practices across Ohio to Pike’s hometown of Mentor, Ohio. A nominal fee was charged, Mentor High School donated concession profits, too, and by the time the donations for Ashlee from a local bank were added up, almost $14,000 had been donated. 

“It’s been absolutely amazing to see the kindness and generosity,” Pike said. 

Hank Keighley, Pike’s former defensive end mate, will serve as best man Saturday. Two Toledo offensive linemen are in the wedding party, and head coach Matt Campbell, defensive line coach Eli Rasheed and several other current Rockets players are headed to St. Louis for the wedding. 

Campbell surprised Barrett when he invited her to the locker room and presented her with the game ball following Toledo’s homecoming win over Central Michigan last fall. Campbell later called that one of his most memorable football moments.

Pike has hung up his shoulder pads, but he’s not done with football. He’s teaching history and coaching the defensive line at Fort Zumwalt West High School, and this week while Barrett has been finalizing wedding details at her parents’ house, he’s been working a football camp. 

Neither would have it any other way. 

“I had nothing to do with planning the wedding whatsoever,” Pike said. “Even if I wanted to help, it was a losing battle.”

So far, anyway, Ashlee Barrett is winning her battle. This weekend marks a milestone — and a moment no one involved will soon forget.