ASHLAND -- Ethan Conley's inspiring tale of hard work and resilience transcends the college basketball court, and he hopes it offers an inspirational message for others.
The Ashland University freshman displayed remarkable fortitude by overcoming a significant childhood ailment just to survive, let alone play Division II college basketball.
“It’s all God and I’m super blessed to be given a second chance at life and especially to be playing basketball,” Conley said.
When Conley was 8 years old, he began having stomach cramps after a basketball game. The cramps worsened after a few days and the pain spread to his legs. It got to the point where Conley wasn't able to walk anymore.
When he was taken to the emergency room, a blood test revealed Conley suffered from a rare disease called Viral Myositis Rhabdomyolysis that was destroying the muscles in his legs. Doctors put Conley on dialysis and life support.
“I’m super grateful just to be here right now,” Conley said. “Doctors gave me a lower than 10% chance to live."
Doctors told Conley if he did survive he would be on dialysis the rest of his life and there was a chance his legs would have to be amputated. However, Conley beat the odds.
The 6-foot-5 perimeter player enjoyed a strong career at Monroe High School, near Middletown, and continues to play the game he loves at Kates Gymnasium in Ashland.
He's started a game and participated in 17 contests overall, averaging 6.2 points and shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. The Eagles are 10-9 overall, 3-8 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and have won two straight going into Thursday night's home game with Ferris State.
John Ellenwood, coach of the Ashland University men's basketball court, pleasantly described meeting Conley and his family for the first time.
“I thought he was too good to be true as a person,” Ellenwood said. “When they came on campus, they were maybe the nicest family and the happiest family I have ever seen in my life.
"They understand the big picture better than a lot of other people because they’ve gone through such a tough time with Ethan.”
Conley explained that his parents were major influences on him and his love for the sport.
“At a young age, they were always coaching me and always encouraging me to do my best," he said. "I really started to love the game around sixth grade.
"Their support, their love and their care is a big part of why I love basketball.”
Conley’s parents both played basketball for the University of Findlay, but he preferred to cast his lot with the Eagles.
“I love the environment here," said Conley. "Playing for Coach (Ellenwood), I know that he is going to push me to do my best and that’s exactly what I wanted.
"It was the team atmosphere, the players, the academics – everything about the school I fell in love with.”
Ellenwood noted Conley's strengths on the court.
“It’s refreshing because he can really shoot the ball," the coach said. "I never have to worry about effort with Ethan and he is very talented.
"Ethan is a great teammate. When you get guys like that, you win every day."
Conley said he hopes his story can inspire others to overcome the obstacles they face.
“Keep putting work every chance you get," he said. “Make the most out of your opportunities.
"Spend a lot of time with friends and love everybody unconditionally.”