Thursday March 15, 2012Nicole Ellis puts injuries behind her to earn spots in Gator lineup
By Mara Rudolph, UF Communications
In her senior season, Nicole Ellis has blossomed into one of Florida’s most consistent performers, and has become a leader in and outside the gym. She is a regular in the Gators’ vault and uneven bars lineup, and it seems her role as the starter in every single bars lineup so far this season was a natural fit. But her fate on the Gators gymnastics team wasn’t always so certain.
Ellis dreamed of being a college gymnast at 10 years old, when she started watching college meet videos at her gymnastics club in Naperville, Ill.
“All of the college girls always looked like they were having so much fun and just loved what they were doing,” she said. “I wanted to love it like they loved it.”
Years of club gymnastics had already taken their toll on Ellis’ body by the time she set foot in Florida’s gym. Ellis had an overuse injury in her hip that caused hip dysplasia, which made her hip less stable and cause her to tear ligaments in her leg. She had surgery before she started college to correct the problem.
“They had to shave down my bone and make it fit better. I spent a long time and many hours in rehab getting back from that because it was a big reconstructive surgery,” Ellis said. “I knew I was going to have to put in a lot of hard work, and I was okay with that because the opportunity to compete for Florida gymnastics was beyond my best imagination.”
She was able to compete in several meets during her freshman year, but near the end of the regular season, Ellis needed surgery on her hip again.
“When I came back my sophomore season, I was probably in the best shape of my life. I had surgery in March, and I had all of summer to rehab. I had all of my skills back when I came back for sophomore year and I felt really confident,” she said.
Just when things were looking up for the sophomore, Ellis fell on the bars and tore a ligament in her elbow. She continued to compete with the tear, but had to have another surgery once the season wrapped.
“I was pretty frustrated that season because I was always getting hurt and it was a hard year for me,” Ellis said. “I had every intention of sticking it out. My heart is in gymnastics, and it always has been.”
Her perseverance has proved worthwhile. Ellis appeared in every single vault and uneven bars lineup for the Gators in 2012, every bars lineup last season, and all but one vault lineup in 2011. She has led off Florida’s bars lineup for each meet of the last two seasons and posted her collegiate bars best of 9.90 earlier this year in the Jan. 27 quad meet. Ellis also earned All-Southeastern Conference honors in 2011 by sharing second on vault at the league championships with a season-best 9.90.
“Every day in preseason training, I felt like I was working toward gaining that spot and being able to have that spot. Nothing is given to anybody. It’s really a big accomplishment of mine and I’m very pleased to have been able to accomplish that and get as far as I have,” Ellis said. “It’s such a special thing to know that my teammates and coaches trust me and have put me in that position. I love being a starter on bars. I know they’re confident in me, and that makes me more confident in myself.”
That leadership translates outside the gym as well. As the second oldest of seven children, Ellis is accustomed to taking on a guiding role.
“My leadership is more everyday leadership, not just necessarily at meets. It comes from my action in the classroom, in practice and throughout the week. I try to have a good attitude every day and not let little things affect how I respond. I feel that is really important,” she said.
It’s that positive attitude that Ellis said has helped her overcome so much adversity throughout her career.
“You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control the outcome,” Ellis said. “You’re going to go through hard times, but those hard times make the good times even better. Success after all that is that much more rewarding.”