Champion gymnast Sarah Ellis reflects on her career

Columbia River senior hoping for more medals in her final season

VANCOUVER — It took several years before Sarah Ellis really found her passion for this sport.

She even quit a couple times, long before she became a high school state champion.

Still, she would return to the gym, prepared to give it another shot. She would grind it out because, after all, she knew she had potential.

Seriously, that was the reason. She certainly did not have a love for gymnastics.

Not then anyway.

Columbia River senior Sarah Ellis has earned at least one medal at the Class 3A state gymnastics championships in her previous three seasons, including the state title on the balance beam in 2017. She is hoping to make it four years in a row in her final season of high school gymnastics. Photo by Paul Valencia
Columbia River senior Sarah Ellis has earned at least one medal at the Class 3A state gymnastics championships in her previous three seasons, including the state title on the balance beam in 2017. She is hoping to make it four years in a row in her final season of high school gymnastics. Photo by Paul Valencia

Today, she is coming to terms with the fact that competitive gymnastics is coming to an end. A senior at Columbia River High School, Ellis will be competing at district later this week, hoping to qualify for the state gymnastics meet, hoping to medal in an event at state for the fourth consecutive season.

Years before she became a high school student, Ellis never figured she would miss gymnastics.

“I just did it because that was my thing. Not that I didn’t like it, but it was a lot of hard work. It took my summers away. It made school hard,” Ellis said.

For her, it was all about being competitive. She did not need to love it to improve.

“I really wanted to be good. I was really driven and motivated as a child,” Ellis said. “That really kept me mentally in shape.”

Today, the sport is and will always be a part of her.

“When high school started, I really started to enjoy it.”

That is when she found the team aspect of the sport. That is when she found her love. It was always there, right there, but she needed her Columbia River teammates and coaches to show her how to embrace that relationship.

And now, it is almost over.

Today, ClarkCountyToday.com celebrates Sarah Ellis’ career with the Columbia River gymnastics team.

A stellar high school career

As a freshman, Ellis reached the state finals in three events, earning medals on the balance beam (sixth place) and the uneven bars (seventh). As a sophomore, she reached finals in two events and placed seventh in the all-around competition.

Last year, she became a state champion, taking the title on the balance beam.

“I didn’t go into it thinking I’ll win. I just did my best,” Ellis said. “My best won. … I want to do that again.”

She also placed seventh on the vault in 2017.

“It’s something you have to be comfortable on,” she said of that event. “A little bit of self-doubt, you can land short. You just have to be comfortable.”

She has a hit-or-miss relationship with her favorite event, the uneven bars.

“It’s not my friend sometimes,” she said. “I’ve always had struggles on bars.”

Perhaps that is why it is her favorite event, though — the challenge.

The floor exercise is “where you get to express yourself,” Ellis said. “It’s just super fun. I love showing off my routine, and I love everyone watching me.”

She did not like how that sounded, the way she described it. She was afraid it came off as self-absorbed.

Not if you know her history, though.

Instead, Ellis comes off as an athlete who has gained so much confidence through her sport. Ellis loves to perform now. She has become a team leader. She has the attitude and the energy.

Not bad for someone who was painfully shy when she was little.

“It was kind of scary,” she said, recalling a birthday party, with several friends in attendance, when she had to walk into another room to open her presents in private.

That is not the Sarah Ellis we know today.

“My dad encouraged me to be myself. I came out of my shell,” Ellis said. “I had outgoing friends that made me really ‘out there.’”

Plus she had gymnastics.

Becoming a standout performer and leader

One cannot be shy, or timid, while attempting feats associated with this sport. Dancing on the floor. Sprinting to the vault. Swinging on the bars. Standing on the beam. All of that, all in the open, alone, yet in front of everyone.

“I knew that I was good at it,” she said. “Then I was able to show it off and be confident in what I was doing.”

The sport helped her get over the fear of being in front of people. Then the sport helped her become a leader. It was early in her high school career when older Chieftains put Ellis under their wing and showed her the way.

Now, it is her turn.

“She expects the team to do what she does,” Columbia River coach Alicia Green said. “Show up on time. Work hard in everything we do. She expects the team to be as prepared as she is.

“She also is good at noticing when someone is struggling and needs a little help,” the coach added. “She takes the initiative to cheer up a teammate or show encouragement. The girls really respond to that.”

Ellis is not so sure she has earned such praise.

“My coach has seen more growth in me than I have,” she said.

The Columbia River gymnastics team will be competing at district this week. Led by senior Sarah Ellis, the Chieftains are hoping to advance to state, as a team, for the 21st consecutive season. Photo courtesy of Alicia Green
The Columbia River gymnastics team will be competing at district this week. Led by senior Sarah Ellis, the Chieftains are hoping to advance to state, as a team, for the 21st consecutive season. Photo courtesy of Alicia Green

Still, Ellis acknowledges she is trying to be a better person, at practice, at school, everywhere in life. As the school treasurer, Ellis took part in a leadership camp with other school leaders this summer.

“Everyone is different, but we’re the same,” she said. “We’re all going through struggles, even if they are different. It’s really important to be all-inclusive.

“If you are a good person, hopefully everyone else will want to follow. It also feels good to be a good person. Acts of kindness, having good character, showing courage.”

She has taken those lessons and applied them to her final season in gymnastics.

“When you have a rough day and you have to go to practice, you still have to give it your best,” she said.

That is the message she wants to leave the younger Chieftains. Oh, and even though she is a state champion, being successful in this sport has more to do with effort and perseverance than a medal.

“It’s not about how good you are,” Ellis said. “It’s how well you fight for everything.”

Still, winning is fun. Columbia River is hoping to make it to the state meet as a team for the 21st consecutive season.

Ellis has taken her attitude with her to other sports at River, too. She is a pole vaulter with the track and field team and this fall she was on the swim team. She has not decided on college just yet but likely will stick with track and field at the next level.

Which means she is getting close to saying goodbye to a sport she really, truly loves. Even after that inauspicious beginning in gymnastics.

“It’s my second home. It’s what I know best,” Ellis said. “It’s made me the person I am today. It’s just mine. It’s my thing. It means something special to me.”

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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