Ashlyn Brysiak, 9, has played soccer her entire life. When she was diagnosed with leukemia last June, Ashlyn, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, drew inspiration through countless rounds of chemotherapy and painful procedures from her heroes: the members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
Alex Morgan, a star forward on the women’s team, tore her ACL while in high school and went on to win Olympic gold with her teammates.
Ashlyn would watch videos of Morgan playing during her treatments. On Monday, the third grader was granted her wish to meet Morgan in person.
"She’s kind of used Alex [Morgan]’s journey as a motivation for herself that she can do it and overcome too," Ashlyn’s dad, Todd Brysiak, told ABC News. He said what made Ashlyn cry when she was diagnosed was learning she would have to stop playing soccer for now.
Ashlyn and her parents, including her mom, Angela Brysiak, were able to travel to Washington, D.C., thanks to Make-A-Wish Philadelphia, North Delaware and Susquehanna Valley. The family watched the U.S. women’s national team practice in Maryland on Monday and then watched the team take on France in the SheBelieves Cup Tuesday at RFK Stadium.
Ashlyn got to stretch with the team, do the team cheer and have soccer balls signed by every player, her dad said.
"Unbelievable" is how Todd Brysiak described the experience.
“She literally just followed Alex the whole time,” he said. "After practice the girls came over and got Ashlyn and took her over to meet the whole team.”
"She hasn’t not had a smile on her face since meeting Alex," Angela Brysiak said about Ashlyn.
Ashlyn just reached what doctors told the family is the "maintenance stage" of her treatment. She continues to take chemotherapy pills daily and undergo monthly tests and she is not yet allowed to return to school because of her weakened immune system.
"We still have a long road ahead of us, but this was certainly something we’ll never forget," Angela Brysiak said. "It’s just amazing to have that smile on her face."
Ashlyn’s dad said even though the U.S. team lost the game to France, the team members were unfailingly gracious to Ashlyn and generous with their time.
"It’s nice for her to look up to people that are that cool about sharing time with a little girl who pretty much thinks they’re the greatest thing on Earth," Todd Brysiak said. "She hasn’t stopped talking about it since Monday afternoon when she first met the team."
A spokesman for U.S. Soccer said the organization works closely with Make-A-Wish to make the dreams of kids like Ashlyn come true.
"Our players are always willing to make time to connect with our fans and provide them with a special experience," the spokesman said in a statement to ABC News. "The players look forward to these opportunities where they can hopefully inspire young girls and boys and make a lasting impact."
Todd Brysiak said he already sees the impact in his daughter after her wish came true.
"It lit the fire under her for sure," he said. "It’s not every day that a 9-year-old kid gets to meet their heroes."