- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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Ashley Owens always had a sense of her own mortality.
"I was pretty much told growing up, like ever since I was little I knew, that I probably wouldn't make it to 25," she said in the fall of 2010, "that I'd be lucky to make it into adulthood."
So she made a bucket list with tasks such as take a ride in a hot air balloon, go white-water rafting, graduate from college and become an elementary teacher, get married.
As she became critically ill from the effects of cystic fibrosis in her early 20s, Ashley even thought to write a farewell letter to her father, reassuring him that she had a wonderful childhood, a wonderful life, and encouraging him to be strong for her mother and younger brother Robert.
But Ashley Owens did not want to die.
Despite dropping to a low of 69 pounds, she fought to keep herself on a transplant list, and she flourished upon receiving the lungs of Chicago boxer Francisco "Paco" Rodriguez, who died from a brain injury he suffered in the ring during a fight in Ashley's native Philadelphia in November 2009.
Taking the first deep breath in her life upon waking from the surgery, Ashley was soon walking, then jogging, bike riding, playing tennis and swimming.
Kneeling at the headstone of Rodriguez in Chicago with three other of his organ recipients on a frigid December day in 2010, Ashley spoke to the fallen boxer, vowing to "carry the scars from your gift like a badge of honor."
"I want you to know that I will strive to live my life as you did, full of passion, love, devotion and a fighting spirit to seize my dreams and make you proud," she said.
She fulfilled her promise.
Ashley checked off all the items on her bucket list. She graduated college with honors. She became a school teacher. She was married last summer to her high school sweetheart, Jesse Quinter, who had proposed to her in the hospital prior to the transplant. And she even won a gold medal in swimming in the Virginia Transplant Games.
She traveled to Jamaica for her honeymoon and this past October to Spain where, it is thought, she contracted a virus that caused her to return suffering from severe fatigue, according to a report in the Philadelphia Daily News.
In early December, the Rodriguez family gathered to decorate a float that was to honor Paco at the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Ashley was to ride on the float.
Instead, in a Philadelphia hospital where she had been in a coma-induced state for the previous three weeks, Ashley died of respiratory failure on Dec. 8 with her husband and family at her bedside. She was 24.
Near West Chester, Pa., there is a place called Longwood Gardens and on one side, there is a large field with fountains on both sides. Ashley estimated the distance was about a sixth of a mile, but it may as well have been 10 miles that she raced her brother on a spring day in May of 2010, barely six months after her double-lung transplant.
"For a second I was like, 'I can't do that,' because it's hard to get out of that mentality," Ashley said later. "And then I was like, 'I probably can now and we just ran and it felt so free and it was so amazing. That was such a great moment in my life. I will remember it forever."
She became critically ill in her early 20s from the effects of Cystic Fibrosis.