Less than 10 years ago, College of Idaho alumna Makenzie Ellsworth ’13 learned she would never walk again. But that hasn’t stopped her from spinning circles around the competition as a rising wheelchair tennis player at both the local and national levels.
“For me, it’s just great to get that competitive feeling again,” Ellsworth says.
Ellsworth, paralyzed from the waist down after a 2006 car accident, was introduced to the game in 2007 during her time at the Idaho Youth Wheelchair Sports Camp. What began as a casual interest became more competitive in 2010, when Ellsworth had her first lesson with coach Randy Corbett of the Idaho Wheelchair Tennis Association. Corbett, a nationally ranked player, taught Makenzie the basics and continues to travel with her to tournaments.
In just a few short years, Ellsworth has grown into a formidable player. She is undefeated in doubles competition, having won multiple national tournaments. Her victories include a 2011 triumph in Portland and a recent win in Dallas with her partner, Chris Cross.
“I prefer doubles because it has more of a team feeling to it,” Ellsworth said. “You have someone to help keep your spirits up when your game is not going the way you want it to.”
Playing doubles is what got Ellsworth hooked on tennis –particularly up-down tennis, a form of doubles where able bodied players team up with wheelchair players in fast-paced matches that feature numerous volleys.
“Up-down tennis is the only wheelchair sport in which able bodied people can be integrated so easily – they don’t have to get into a chair to play,” Ellsworth said. “I love the fact that I can play the game not just with my wheelchair friends, but with anyone.”
Ellsworth often travels during the spring and summer months to play in tournaments and participate in wheelchair tennis camps, including an annual Salt Lake City camp run by U.S. Paralympic tennis coach Dan James. She also trains locally at Boise State University’s Boas Tennis Center as well as Boise’s Shoshone Park.
When she isn’t serving tennis balls, Ellsworth serves the public as an AmeriCorps Summer VISTA Associate with the Idaho Food Bank, working closely with children as a part of the organization’s “Picnic in the Park” program. Ellsworth and her team recruit volunteers to come spend time with children at more than two-dozen park locations.
While Ellsworth loves her work with the food bank, she still harbors an ambition to play professional tennis. Together with Corbett, she hopes to take her game to the next level this summer as she travels the country to compete at International Tennis Association (ITA) and United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments in Salt Lake City, Portland and Las Vegas.
“If I am given the opportunity to play tennis professionally, I would never turn that down!” Ellsworth said. “If a professional opportunity doesn’t come, I plan to return to school to get my master’s in nutrition and food science.”
If one door closes, Ellsworth will find new opportunities to pursue.
It’s a competitive spirit that has served her well, both on the tennis court and in life.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 12 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.