Northland Strong: Hockey coach defeats cancer

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Right from birth, Jeff Ralston had an uphill battle.

“I had meningitis when I was first born, and spent the first month of my life in the hospital, in the ICU,” he told us.

That led to epilepsy, and so many seizures. He had brain surgery, which definitely helped.

But his doctors urged him to stay away from contact sports.

His love of hockey kept him lacing up his skates anyways. He was part of the first team in Virginia to make the state tournament in 2005.

Fast forward to now, he and his wife Ashley have two girls, Mila and Maisy.

Mila has started hockey, so he helps with her U-10 team.

It was off the ice though, that Jeff found out he had another health hurdle.

He and Maisy were wrestling when she accidentally kneed him in the groin.

“It hurt, but the pain went away,” he recalled. A few days later, the pain returned. So he went to the doctor.

There, he got the diagnosis: stage 2 testicular cancer.

“They said I could have had it for awhile, and it happened to get irritated when we were goofing around,” he said.

Last January, he had surgery and started chemo. The rounds really took it out of him. Still, it was worth it, as he’s cancer free.

He just finished up his first season as the head coach of the Rock Ridge girls JV team, and is an assistant coach for the varsity team.

Last month’s Hockey Fights Cancer game in Hoyt Lakes gave his hockey family time to shine. He dropped the ceremonial puck, and the whole arena heard more about his health journey.

And they gave him a jersey with his old number on it.

“It was a surprise, I didn’t know anything was going to happen,” he said.

Plus, the teams brought in over $5000 for Care Partners, which is an organization that helps people with cancer and other life limiting illnesses.

“I was glad to give back and help a great cause, like Care Partners,” he told us.

Rock Ridge is now 3rd in the state for money raised.

Jeff said he’s beyond grateful for the support from parents, players, coaches, and their church family.

Ashley, his wife, added, “I think God helped us out a lot. Put people in the right places. It’s hard to ask to for help, but people really do want to do things for you.”

And of course, he couldn’t do this without his girls. “These three put in a lot of work, and helped me through. Made me smile when I didn’t want to smile,” Ralston remembered.

The Ralstons added it’s important to check for testicular cancer.