Life has thrown a few surprises at Ashley Ayala.
The 36-year-old Dubuque native grew up in a what many would describe as a traditional Midwestern household backed by strong family bonds, despite losing its patriarch in 2003.
That loss would lead Ashley to discovering a passion for the practice of yoga, eventually tapping into the courage to open her Dubuque-based studio.
But it was in December 2011 that perhaps one of the biggest surprises came along.
While attending a comedy night at Dubuque’s Rainbow Lounge, a friend introduced Ashley to a man name Ricky, a Chicago native and lineman, with nearly two decades of service as a member of the National Guard. He recently had returned from a deployment in Afghanistan.
It wasn’t long that she was drawn to his resilience, his passion and his positive approach to life.
“He was person who had beat the odds,” Ashley said. “Things hadn’t always come very easily for him. He didn’t have a lot of family support. He had been on his own since he was about 15 and in high school. But it produced this amazing work ethic and an incredible outlook on life. He’s determined to succeed.”
Ashley and Ricky, 37, tied the knot on May 13, 2017.
More than a decade later, in addition to two kids — Autumn, 2; and Aubrey, 10 months — and launching a locally owned business overlapping with three deployments, the couple hasn’t had a typical start to married life or parenting.
“The biggest challenge has been the time spent apart and the changing schedule,” Ashley said. “Ricky is on the road a lot, so the time we do have together is very important.”
Yet, they’ve made it work.
“I call it ‘the magic,’” Ricky said. “It’s balance, patience and communication. It’s not stressing the small stuff or the big stuff. It’s taking everything day by day and knowing that everything is going to be OK.”
Honing ‘the magic’
Approximately a year after Ashley and Ricky wed, Rickey encouraged Ashley to open Soul Revolution Yoga + Cycling in Wacker Plaza.
The business, now in its third year, combines hot yoga classes, as well as cycling classes under one roof.
Despite the pandemic’s impact which saw the business shuttering for a time, then offering virtual options before reopening, Soul remains strong, Ashley said.
“It has been pretty life-changing,” she said of the business. “I found my calling. It has opened my eyes to a lot and helped me grow as a person. It has helped me to settle in and position myself in who I want to be for people.”
Next, they welcomed daughter Autumn.
Not long after that, Ashley discovered she was pregnant with baby No. 2 — just as Ricky was preparing for another deployment overseas and shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, forcing her to pivot her business approach to weather the storm.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a challenge,” Ashley said, with a laugh. “There were days I was just keeping my head above water. Most women are pregnant with their husbands. I was pregnant by myself and with a toddler and a new business to run. Then, the pandemic was present, so everything in life and in our mindset had to change.”
That’s where a little of the “magic” came in — balance, patience and communication, thanks to technology.
“FaceTime came in handy,” Ashley said, with a laugh. “We’d spend a lot of time with the baby holding the phone.”
She also asked for help on the home front, from family and friends to hiring a part-time nanny.
“You have to know when to ask for help and what your limitations are,” Ashley said. “You have to balance, prioritize and take a look at where you can find efficiencies to make things quick and easy.”
After an 11-month deployment, Ricky returned home as part of the Alpha Company 1-133 Infantry Iowa National Guard on April 13, 2021 — seeing one daughter’s growth and meeting the other for the first time.
“It was a special moment,” he said.
It also yielded yet another shift for the family.
United at last
Embracing life as a united family of four for the first time, Ashley and Ricky are settling back into married life, as well as parenting.
“I think we’ve both pretty old-school,” Ashley said. “We both kind of go with the flow and relaxed.”
Ashley and Ricky attribute the connection in their growing family with their family upbringings and relationships. Although Ashley described hers as a large unit with close ties, Ricky said his experience was strained. It proved an adjustment for him when being welcomed in by Ashley’s family early in their relationship.
“I think my experience showed me what not to be and what not to do and the kind of husband and father I should be,” he said. “It made me want to work to make myself better and to be able to provide for my family.”
And provide he has, Ashley said.
“It’s different, and it’s had it challenges, but it’s an amazing life that he has provided for us,” she said. “We’re very lucky.”
Ashley remains compelled by Ricky’s discipline and determination, while Ricky described Ashley as a person who wears her heart on her sleeve.
“She’s got so much joy, and she’s always smiling,” he said. “She gives all that she is.”
While Ricky continues to report for National Guard duty each month, since reuniting, he and Ashley love looking for opportunities to squeeze in day dates when they can, as well as taking part in tailgating, golf or simply getting lost in an in-depth conversation.
With the kids in tow, they enjoy “mini-vacations” to parks, pools, zoos and pumpkin patches in the fall.
What other families might be able to glean from Team Ayala is finding efficiencies to maximize what matters most in their lives: Time. That means turning off the TV, logging off social media and putting down their digital devices.
“We don’t spend a lot of time with technology or the TV,” Ashley said. “We find ourselves all cuddling together at night. I’ve just become a big softy.”
“It’s all about make the most of our time together, because with me needing to be away so much, it can be limited,” Ricky added. “We don’t want to waste time.”
“And we want to be present in the time we have,” Ashley said.
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.