Matchup between Roethlisberger and Ashley Harlan declared 'destiny'
Sally Hiers remembers Ashley Harlan's 6-year-old face beaming when they met long ago at First Alliance Church in New Castle, Harlan's hometown.
"She was such a happy little girl who loved sports and loved going to church," Hiers said of Harlan, 26, who on Saturday will become the wife of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. "She has grown into a beautiful young woman."
Pittsburgh's royal wedding is set for Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township, the couple's place of worship for the past year. Although most people are familiar with the groom, many don't know much about the bride-to-be, who met Roethlisberger at training camp in 2005. The couple has dated on and off since. News of their engagement broke about seven months ago.
In June, Roethlisberger told the Tribune-Review that he and Harlan share at least one trait: "Pretty competitive, but I don't know anybody as competitive as me."
Harlan and Roethlisberger declined to be interviewed for this story.
Friends, coaches and others who know Harlan, who celebrated her birthday Sunday, describe the physician's assistant at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland as smart, athletic and down to earth.
"Ashley is a fine young woman -- young lady, I should say," said the Rev. Jerry McCauley, who was pastor at First Alliance Church for 11 years, including when Harlan was born.
McCauley and his wife have a photograph of Harlan at age 10 that hangs on their refrigerator in the Lake Placid, Fla., home where they moved when he retired. McCauley said he was close with Harlan's family -- parents David and Jeannie, and brothers Brandon, a teacher near Grove City, and Brent, an accountant in New Castle.
"That is one of the finest Christian families I've ever met in my life," McCauley said.
Hiers of New Wilmington isn't surprised that Harlan is marrying an athlete. Harlan played for hours in the church gym before becoming a three-sport star at Laurel High School, where she graduated in 2004, and playing softball at St. Francis University in Loretto.
Harlan played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school. She was a member of the homecoming court -- and a tremendous student, said Terry Watters, who coached her in volleyball and basketball.
"At Laurel, she was one of the socialites, one of the most popular girls in school," Watters said.
Harlan was part of a volleyball team in 2000 that holds a special place in Watters' heart. The Lady Spartans won the WPIAL Class AA championship that season, the year Watters' brother, Donald, was killed by his estranged wife.
"Going through the season, everything just fell in place," Watters said. "I can't thank those kids enough."
The two saw each other last month at a wedding in New Castle.
"We hugged, and I said, 'I just wish you the best,' " Watters said.
Hiers said she was one of the first people Harlan called after getting engaged over the Christmas holiday.
"I think she and Ben ... it is destiny," Hiers said. "You can just see the chemistry between them."
Roethlisberger twice in recent years was accused of sexually assaulting women, once in Nevada and then in Georgia. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger four games last season for the incident in Milledgeville, Ga., though authorities did not charge him with a crime. Roethlisberger still faces a civil lawsuit over the Lake Tahoe allegations.
He asked permission from Harlan's father to marry his daughter, and spoke with her brothers before asking her to marry him, McCauley said.
"If Ben's life was still in disarray, Dave and Jeannie Harlan would not have given permission," McCauley said. "He has made quite a turnaround."
Sabrina Lane Graham, Harlan's former softball coach at St. Francis, said Harlan is not interested in marrying Roethlisberger just because he is a star.
"For me, Ashley is Ashley," Lane Graham said. "She would not be doing this if this isn't who she was meant to be with. ... She is not looking for attention."
Roethlisberger and Harlan are expected to live in the six-bedroom, nearly 11,000-square-foot house in Hampton he bought in 2006 for more than $2 million, county real estate records show. He moved his parents from northwest Ohio to a ranch he bought for them outside Pittsburgh. Harlan's family lives in a brown, ranch-style home in rural Hickory near New Castle.
The families blended well, and the parents have spent time together, those familiar with the couple said.
Harlan has a lot in common with Roethlisberger's sister, Carlee, who played basketball at Oklahoma. Her brothers share Roethlisberger's love of the outdoors.
"Ashley has a tomboy side when it comes to sports, and then she can dress up and she is gorgeous," Hiers said. "Ashley can light up a room when she walks into one."
She predicts Harlan can handle being married to a high-profile athlete.
"Ashley is resilient. She is confident and knows who she is," Hiers said. "I think she will have fun dealing with (the limelight)."Additional Information:
So, where's the party?
Nobody will say, but wedding planner Sheila Weiner last week visited the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and vendors are setting up for a banquet Saturday in the Spirit of Pittsburgh ballroom.
'Who it is and what it's for and who the VIPs are, I don't know,' said general manager Mark Leahy.
The 31,000-square-foot space offers views of Downtown from the center's third floor and rents for $8,500 a day. Vendors include Premier Foliage & Flowering Inc. and Vanilla Pastry Studio, both of East Liberty, and Hepatica, a florist in Regent Square.
The couple bought their wedding rings at Henne Jewelers in Shadyside.