Ellenburg, who signed a scholarship to swim at Berry, also had the talent to be successful on the cross country and track teams.
But Fairbanks said her participation in all those programs — including her favorite sport of swimming — were thrown in doubt when she broke a bone in her back and wrist in a wreck in the spring of last year.
“She was a three-year swimmer and three-year letterman for us,” Fairbanks recalled. “She was also a three-year letterman in cross country and track. But she couldn’t do it last year because of the wreck.”
After the wreck, Fairbanks, the school swim coach, said he was concerned about her ability to represent Cass in any of those sports.
“We didn’t expect her to do any,” he said, “but she worked really hard with rehab and her doctor released her to swim and we were so pleased.”
Fairbanks said she was more than a swimmer for Cass and having her meant a lot to the team as a while.
“She was a three-year captain for us,” he said. “She was a great leader and still performed very well in the pool.”
Fairbanks said Ellenburg didn’t just represent the team after her rehab.
“She won the county 50 freestyle and was second in the 100-yard butterfly,” he said. “She also was the anchor leg on our relay teams because she was our fastest swimmer by far.”
The coach Ellenburg performed so well because she was committed to performing well for her school and herself.
“She’s a real hard worker,” he said. “She had a lot of determination and perseverance to get over her injury.”
Fairbanks believes she could have done even better with more time. “I’m sure she would have won the butterfly events, but we held her back.”
Fairbanks said the Cass swimmer excels out of the pool as well.
“As a student, she will graduate with a 3.3 GPA,” he said. “She was a National Honor Society member who always worked hard in the classroom. She was an exceptional person all the way around, in academics as well as athletic competition.”
He said he believes her athleticism will contribute to the success of Berry College’s swim team.
“I can see Berry use her in sprints just like we did,” he said. “She’s versatile. She can do all the strokes — the butterfly, the backstroke, the breast stroke and free style.”
He said he was very proud just to see her competing again after all the adversity that came her way.
“I was glad to see her get back out there. That was the answer to a lot of prayers. What a tremendous girl she is. She deserved it but it was not given to her. She worked hard. She had the talent but had to battle back to get it back again.”