News & Stories

From Softball Rivals to Sisters: ALS Can’t Stop Friendship by Vaughnée T. Simmons

young person with ALS and her friend
Ashley and Vaughnee

As an inner-city youth from El Barrio, also known as East Harlem, I was blessed to have found love in the beautiful sport of softball. The sport kept me active, safe, grounded and introduced to me many girls that I’d develop sisterhoods with. There is one sisterhood in particular that has a beautiful and unique story. That sisterhood is with my dear friend Ashley Amy Rivera, a 29-year-old Bronx native who has been living with ALS since 2020.

We met playing softball on opposing teams shortly after my 13th birthday. Ashley became one of the fiercest centerfielders in the league, an amazing baserunner, and a strong hitter helping her team win their first championship in 2011, which was inspirational. Her team, the Monarchs, had a strong emphasis on family, being competitive softball players, and having fun. I joined their team the following season.

Ashley and I got along right away and had a great dynamic both on and off the field. My favorite part of that season was winning the championship. The game went into overtime, and she was the winning run at home plate. In addition to softball, Ashley and I also attended college with one another. We both graduated from UAlbany and went on to find success. I studied Journalism and then Social Work. Ashley studied Education, became a teacher, and authored a book.

Fast forward to March 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ashley was diagnosed with ALS, and it shattered her world. We FaceTimed a few times, but she didn’t mention her silent battle. I learned about her diagnosis through her post on Twitter. I knew about ALS because of Lou Gehrig and the Ice Bucket Challenge but did not fully understand the severity of the disease. I did not come to terms with her diagnosis until 2021 when our mutual friend, and one of our softball sisters named Chelsea, discussed ALS with me.

Chelsea, Ashley, and Vaughnee at the 2023 Lou Gehrig Legacy Gala

Chelsea had been working at Mount Sinai’s ALS Center and had a lot of experience with those living with the disease. I reached out to Ashley shortly after to apologize for my distance and started spending more time with her again. I have made sure to be there for her, whether it be a gathering at her home, the ALS Walk, celebrating her birthday, or just having conversations via text or FaceTime.

My friend is still here knocking ALS out of the ballpark. Although she has experienced a lot of physical changes, it has not stopped her from living her life. She travels, participates in podcasts, posts daily videos online, tends to her cute dog Revna, dedicates time to her awesome group Her ALS Story, and spends as much time as possible with those who mean the most to her. Ashley’s courage, strength, and bravery are unmatched. I am forever grateful and blessed that softball brought us together. The sport knew that we needed each other and that we would forever have each other’s backs. She’ll forever be number 19 to my 5 and I will forever be number 5 to her 19.

Share This Page: