FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Senior gymnast Cailee Ellsworth has had to overcome several obstacles to get to where she is today. Ellsworth had always dreamed of being a high-level Division I gymnast, but ever since her junior year of high school, road block after road block appeared, but after a long journey, she has finally achieved her goal and is living out her dream at the University of Arkansas.
Ellsworth grew up in Allen, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, and she spent most of her life competing as a gymnast. She was in line to receive a scholarship from Division I programs, but her all of that halted when she sustained an injury to her shoulders before her final year of high school.
“Arkansas was recruiting me and I had expressed serious interest in coming to Fayetteville,” recalls Ellsworth. “I had an obstacle come my way my senior year with an injury and that kind of put everything on hold for a while in terms of recruitment.”
Ellsworth was devastated with the injury, but her competitive nature would not allow her to just sit around and not doing anything for a year. While her injury prevented her from doing any gymnastics activity, it did not impede on her abilities to compete on the Allen High School diving team.
“Diving was a completely different world for me,” stated Ellsworth. “I’ve been a gymnast all my life, and I just went into diving with an open mind. I viewed it as an activity that kept me in a competitive sport and also kept me active.”
Though she had traded flips on the bars for flips into a pool, Ellsworth did not stray too far away from the sport she had loved. She continued to work at a local gym and was rehabbing during that time, hoping to get a full recovery from her injury.
One day, Ellsworth decided that she was ready to get back on the uneven bars. Not fully knowing how much she could do, she put on her grips and swung on the bars for the first time in months. She was able to pull off half of her normal routine, meaning she was well on her way to recovery. After that day, she began training harder and started the recruiting process over looking for a school that would take her on.
“When I reopened my recruiting, Texas Woman’s University was really interested,” said Ellsworth. “I accepted the opportunity to compete for them my freshman year.”
Texas Woman’s University is the only school with a gymnastics program in the Lone Star State. It was a convenient location for Ellsworth, as her hometown of Allen was less than an hour away. TWU is an NCAA Division II program, and while they compete against the highest-level of teams in Division I gymnastics, Ellsworth desired for more.
“There was a lot of amazing people at TWU and I loved my coaches there, but I knew in my heart that this wasn’t the place I was supposed to be. Arkansas was always in the back of my head during my time at TWU, and at the end of the year, I decided within myself to take a step back from that program and reevaluate what I truly wanted to do to be happy.”
Ellsworth decided to move back home and solely focus on her grades. While at home, she attended Collin College but was still plotting her next move to a Division I gymnastics program.
“I decided to go to community college and focus on my school work. I want to get ahead academically, which I did, and I wanted to take as many classes as possible, for as cheap as possible. I was still training with my club coach and the goal was to compete for a Division I school the following year.”
When Ellsworth opened up her recruiting again there was mutual interest between her and Arkansas. She setup a visit to Fayetteville to tryout for the team as a walk-on. Once she arrived on campus, she impressed the staff enough to offer her a walk-on spot, which she graciously accepted.
“After going through everything, it was such an accomplishment to accept a walk-on role at Arkansas,” Ellsworth expressed. “It such a huge sense of relieve for me. I took a step back and thought ‘Wow, there is hope for me and I can do this, even though I’ve been face with so many obstacles,’ so it was such a big moment for me when they offered.”
As a walk-on, she was able to work her way into the uneven bars lineup and was featured in seven rotations on the year. Her score counted on four of her first-year routines, and was highlighted by a season-best 9.750 at top-ranked, and eventual co-National Champion, Florida.
After her junior year was over, she decided to stay in Fayetteville and train with the staff all summer to improve her skills. She continued to improve every day and displayed her never-give-up mentality during the offseason, which the coaching staff took notice of. She came into fall camp, still a walk-on, but competed hard every single practice and continued to impress the coaching staff.
All of her hard work and fighting through obstacles was about to ultimately pay off. Halfway through fall training, the coaching staff rewarded Ellsworth with a scholarship. She had finally obtained the one thing that she had worked so hard for, and it was an emotional moment for the senior.
“When Coach Cook told me that he had put me on scholarship I couldn’t contain my smile,” Ellsworth said. “I started crying and everyone was so happy for me. I had a huge sense of accomplishment because I finally achieved a goal that I had set for myself back when I five years old. All I ever wanted to do was to get a scholarship from a Division I program, and now it’s happened. This means the world to me.”
After receiving the scholarship, Ellsworth once again had to overcome a challenge, as she endured an injury late in preseason training. The injury forced her to miss the first three meets of the year, but she finally made her debut as a Division I scholarship gymnast in her home state of Texas of all places. At the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, just an hour from her hometown, Ellsworth was featured in the uneven bars lineup and put on a great display in front of her family and friends, as she recorded a career-best 9.775 that night.
Cailee Ellsworth never gave up on her dream and overcame every challenge life threw her way to achieve it. She will be honored Friday night, March 13, as one of two seniors for Arkansas’ Senior Night, as the No. 16-ranked Razorbacks are set to take on No. 8 UCLA at 6:45 p.m.
For more information on the Arkansas women’s gymnastics team, follow @RazorbackGym on Twitter.