Success isn’t always defined by the number of trophies on one’s mantle or plaques hanging from their wall.
In his time at Waccamaw High School, individual and team honors came with regularity for former tennis coach James Brown. Head man for both the boys and girls teams, the Warriors claimed eight state championships and nine individual titles.
Brown stepped down from the spot in 2013, heading north to coach multiple sports at schools in New York and New Jersey.
Each summer, he makes the trek back to the area, renewing acquaintances with friends — some of whom had not seen him since his last trip the previous year.
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By no means is this a vacation for Brown, though. Instead, this visit is to further honor one young life, while hopefully raising funds and awareness to potentially save countless others.
Brown will embark upon a 935-mile journey from Burlington, Ontario, Canada to Surfside Beach on July 11 as part of this year’s Ashley G. Ride.
Held annually, the event remembers the life of former Waccamaw girls tennis standout Ashley Gaines, who was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma prior to graduating from the school in 2007. The following year, she would succumb to the disease.
But none of the other riders knew Ashley. They’re not in this because of they want to stay fit or have some other purpose. They’re part of this because of a young girls who lost her life to a terrible disease, and have a want to help others.
Former Waccamaw tennis coach James Brown, on purpose of Ashley G. Charitable Foundation
According to Brown, there isn’t a day that passes without the memory of his late pupil crossing his mind.
“Having coached Ashley and [having been] so close to her, there is rarely a moment where she isn’t on my mind,” he said. “That’s pretty much what I told my wife the other day, that we never waver from the purpose of this ride.”
This year marks the seventh year the Ashley G. Ride is being held. Solo on his first several trips — riding from California, Texas and New York to the Grand Strand — he will be joined by four other avid cyclists to start the journey, before an additional 13 riders merges with the group.
“The first three years, it was just me riding across America twice and then from New York (back to the Myrtle Beach area),” he said. “Our main core is growing … they jumped on board and are all avid cyclists and good friends.
“But none of the other riders knew Ashley. They’re not in this because of they want to stay fit or have some other purpose. They’re part of this because of a young girl who lost her life to a terrible disease, and have a want to help others.”
The group is expected to complete the 935-mile journey on July 19 in Surfside Beach.
All of this happened out of the blue. She was all of these wonderful things — a homecoming queen, college-bound, a state champion — and then she was gone. All of that motivates me to keep going, for her and others that could be diagnosed with the disease.
Former Waccamaw tennis coach James Brown
Since the Ashley G. Charitable Foundation was created in 2008, it has offered more than $100,000 for lymphoma research. It has also awarded nearly a dozen college scholarships, assisted local families with bills, along with providing Christmas gifts and handmade blankets to pediatric oncology patients at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
“As I’ve said, this is a special situation … this is a special child I was able to spend time with,” Brown said. “All of this happened out of the blue. She was all of these wonderful things — a homecoming queen, college-bound, a state champion — and then she was gone. All of that motivates me to keep going, for her and others that could be diagnosed with the disease.”
Hitting the road at dawn, the group will travel approximately 87 miles per day — or what amounts to six hours on the road.
Said Brown: “It’s absolutely unbelievable, totally different from riding in a car. You’re going at a slower pace, but you get to see all the small towns and people along the way. And also, you sometimes get to ride certain roads inaccessible by vehicle.”
Best of all, Brown — despite being 57-years old — believes he is in the best shape of his life.
“I’m in my prime,” he said. “I can ride better now than I ever could. … I started off like anyone else, with an interest (in cycling) but Ashley came along and changed that focus.”