February 18, 2018
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Nonprofit Stef Ripple Spreads Kindness

Gracie Fairfax
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September 7, 2017

“She was a warrior,” said Bob Ashdown of his late wife, Stefanie. Born and raised in Severna Park, and a 1996 graduate of Severna Park High School, Stefanie passed away on May 18, 2017, after a two-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer. While anyone who knew Stefanie, especially during her battle with cancer, speaks of her determination and strength, they also talk about her kindness and willingness to help people. In order to honor the person she was, her family and friends started Stef Ripple, a nonprofit with a mission to “provide awareness, hope, encouragement and support for ovarian cancer patients and their families by sharing the principles of Stefanie's life: be thankful, be helpful, be kind.”

When Stefanie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2014, she was an active 36-year-old mom with three young kids — Owen, now 13; Acadia, who will soon be 11, and Violet, now 8. In August 2014, just two months before her diagnosis, Stefanie won fourth place in her age group for the Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon.

Despite the unexpected and sudden nature of her diagnosis, she didn’t let it stop her from being who she was. Stefanie sat on the sidelines at her children’s sporting events, attended their concerts, ran 5Ks and was even planning her daughter’s birthday party the night before she passed away.

“Whenever there was something that came up in conversation – any sort of doubt or fear or anything like that, we kept it on the positive side, because that’s what we needed to go forward,” Bob said. “So, after her diagnosis, it was shattering, just the true diagnosis … but her mentality was just so resolved, so rock solid.”

Bob and Stefanie first met in college at Salisbury State University when Bob was working behind a counter in the school bookstore. Stefanie came up to ask a question and they learned they were both going on the freshman orientation bike trip, as Stefanie was a freshman at the time and Bob was going as a peer counselor.

“I don’t remember the specific words, but I can see her plain as day standing behind the counter asking and just talking to her, just in my mind thinking, ‘She’s very cute, she’s going on this trip, I’m going on this trip,’” Bob said.

The bike trip was through Acadia National Park, a place they later traveled to with their kids. Stefanie finished her bachelor’s degree from Salisbury in three years and she and Bob were married in 1999, when he was 22 and she was 20. They then lived in Hawaii for a few years where Bob was stationed with the U.S. Army; at the same time, she worked at Hawaii Pacific University, where she earned her master’s degree in information systems. When they moved back to Maryland, she worked for Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Bob remembers her as soft-spoken in voice, but loud through her actions.

In 2014, Wendy Preslan, a stranger at the time, happened to be in the vicinity when Stefanie got the phone call bearing the bad news of her diagnosis. She believes God put her there in that moment for a reason, and she and Stefanie soon became close friends. Wendy, who has children close to Stefanie’s age, knew she would want someone to be there for her or her daughter if in the same situation. Throughout Stefanie’s battle, Wendy helped her with meals and served as extra help with her children. Sometimes she just sat with her and held her hand. Stefanie would encourage Wendy to run races she could no longer run and they went on long walks together.

“She was one of those people who, once you met her, you never forgot her,” Preslan said, “just an infectious smile and a spirit.”

Shortly after Stefanie passed away, Wendy came across a video on Facebook in a foreign language whose primary message was that an act of kindness could create a lasting ripple. Wendy shared the video on Facebook with the hashtag #stefripple and Stefanie’s husband and father saw it. Her father said to Wendy, “I love this – this is who and what Stefanie was.” When the nonprofit was created in the days following her funeral, the name Stef Ripple naturally fit.

“I think it’s been helping everybody in the grieving process to be able to honor her in this way,” explained Preslan, who serves on the advisory board of the nonprofit. “We are honoring Stef, but we also want to make sure that other people have the love and support that she had, and so I think that’s really keeping the family together and working together and helping each other get through.”

Through Stef Ripple, Stefanie’s friends and family hope to help others, those going through similar struggles, to make memories through funding activities like photo sessions. During her own fight with cancer, Stefanie appreciated the ways her own family was cared for, such as through Camp Kesem – a nationwide camp put on locally by Johns Hopkins that supports children “through and beyond their parent’s cancer.” Stef Ripple is her and her family’s way of giving that support to others.

On September 9, Stef Ripple will host the Stefanie Ashdown Memorial “Do Your Best” 5K, which earned that name because Stefanie used to always tell her children to do their best. It will begin at 8:00am at Belvedere Elementary School. September is the month of Stefanie’s birthday and National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

“Doing something for it brings her to the front of my mind. It’s not like I need anything to bring her to the front of my mind. She’s on my mind all the time, but it’s productive,” Bob said. “It’s something to move forward with.”

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