Ashley Cain's whole world turned upside down on 25 April 2021, when his daughter Azaylia passed away at the age of eight months following a long and arduous battle with leukaemia.
She was just eight weeks old when she was first diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of the blood cancer and had been receiving care at Birmingham Children Hospital. After multiple rounds of chemo and a bone marrow transplant, the family were told the devastating news that Azaylia's leukaemia had returned.
In a final attempt to save her life, her devoted parents Ashley, 30, and Safiyya Vorajee, 33, launched a fundraiser to pay for specialist treatment in Singapore. Fans and celebrities alike rushed to offer support, and they shattered their target of the £1million needed within hours.
But days later, they were dealt a brutal blow by doctors who believed Azaylia had merely a few days to live after finding tumours throughout her body. Instead of jumping on a plane to Singapore, they decided to stay and ensure her final days were filled with love and joy.
'I still want to show my daughter how much she means to me'
It's now been 11 months since Azaylia passed away and 10 since he delivered the heartbreaking eulogy, when he vowed: "To the top of every mountain, to the bottom of every valley. Along every road, across every ocean. North to south, east to west, corner to corner, pillar to post. I’ll take you there baby, let's go champ."
He's been true to his word as Ashley has already undertaken the extreme challenge of biking 1,040 miles for The Azaylia Foundation.
"I'm looking forward to going in there to show people how tough that I can be – not in terms of physical, but in terms of actually going through such a painful time and going through such a loss and grieving," Ashley told OK!. "The fact that my passion and my love towards my daughter still means everything to me – I still want to show my daughter how much she means to me, how much I love her, how much she affected my life."
The reality TV star was also recently training for a boxing match against YouTuber Andreas Eskander, which was cancelled just days before the fight was due to take place. But all the preparation Ashley went through will still come in handy as he embarks on more challenges over the next few months.
"I'll run or swim, and I'll box and then sometimes I'll throw in a strengthening and conditioning session," he explained. "It's very difficult, it's very hard to do. But it was worth it."
Ashley is also taking on an ultramarathon – a running race beyond the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles – in honour of Azaylia.
The grieving father explained that he plans to run the ultramarathon on the weekend that will mark the one year anniversary of his beloved daughter's death before spending the day by close family.
He told OK!: "I don't really know how I'm going to feel on that day, I don't really know exactly how that day is going to go. But on her anniversary and on the weekend of her anniversary, that's when I would like to run my ultramarathon. I want to go see her that day, I want to go spend some time at her resting place."
'On the anniversary, I'm going to run an ultramarathon to occupy my mind'
Ashley explained that he spends every big occasion by Azaylia's resting place, including her birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Christmas and will spend Azaylia's anniversary there with loved ones, too.
He said: "We always go down with the family, all of us and have a really beautiful time at her resting place, because we want to show her that she's still always in our hearts, we want to let her see us smiling. But also, I want to run an ultramarathon to get out, I want to be outside, I want to be working hard, I want to raise awareness, I want to be raising funds and I want to take on another journey.
"On her anniversary this year, I'm going to run an ultramarathon so I can do all those things and hopefully occupy my mind because I've quit alcohol, quit drinking. I didn't want to be that person that resorts to alcohol or goes down a slippery slope as a result of the pain that I'm feeling.
"I prefer to push that pain into something productive. I think by working my body on that day, I can relieve some of the pain from my mind."
Ashley also revealed he believes his daughter watches him take on all these physical challenges from the best viewpoint there is: the sky. When Azaylia passed away, he felt this overwhelming need to be outside as he felt a "connection" with all the elements. He wants to run, cycle, swim in open water all because he thought she could see him out there and it felt like the best place he "could talk to my little girl".
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'I've already gone through the hardest thing that I can go through in life; losing a child'
"When I was going through a bit of physical pain through my body, it relieved a bit of pain from my heart and my head," he explained to OK!. "And then that turned into taking my daughter on these journeys doing these challenges. So for me fitness and exercise helps. It has been my saviour throughout this and that's the honest truth."
He went on: "It's enabled me to find out who I am by doing these challenges that.. you know what, there's nothing in this world now that can stop me. I've already gone through the hardest thing that I can go through in life; losing a child. So now everything else I'm capable of achieving and I'm capable of conquering, I'm capable of overcoming. And when you have the power of that added on to doing these things, I can raise awareness I can raise funds, I can motivate and inspire other people around the world. The decision to do is easy no matter how hard they are.
"It's not a problem because compared to what these kids go through fighting cancer, what is taking 24 hours out of your day to run an ultra marathon? For me, it's not a problem. What is getting in the ring to fight six rounds? It's not a problem. What is biking 1000 miles? It's not a problem. Because I believe that my place on this earth now is to serve a greater purpose than just to saunter through my life with no goals or ambition."
Remembering Azaylia Cain
'I take her little Simba Lion King cuddly toy everywhere I go'
While the sky has always been there for him as a way to connect with his daughter, there's also one significant memento he can't bare to leave behind when he takes on brutal bike rides, boxing matches or runs – his daughter's cuddly toy Simba, from The Lion King.
Azaylia played with her Simba, wrestled, cuddled and slept with her toy – it never left her side, the entire time she was in hospital.
Her mum and dad initially planned to lay their daughter to rest with Simba after seeing how attached she became to the toy, but in the end Ashley couldn't part with it. "I wanted to keep it because it still smelled [like her], it still had a bit of her on it," he shared. "I believe in that little Simba was a part of Azaylia."
Ashley sniffed back tears as he added: "So when I do any of these challenges, I take her little Simba with me, because it's a way of feeling like I'm taking her.
"I take her little Simba Lion King cuddly toy everywhere I go, because I believe that in that toy is a little bit of Azaylia."
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