Ashton Ellzey was entering her junior year at Baker High School when she decided that swimming might be her ticket.
She had made the finals at the state swim meet as a freshman and sophomore, but when she told her father she was going to get a scholarship to Auburn, he was understandably skeptical. This was the girl he had to wake up in the mornings and force to go to practice.
But Ellzey, who also swam for the City of Mobile Swim Association, saw some of her teammates qualify for the 2012 Olympic trials and found a mission.
“I was like: That could be me,” Ellzey said. “Ever since that summer, I didn’t miss a practice for that whole entire year. I believe that set me up for putting up fast times at these big meets, and that’s what got Auburn to start looking at me.”
Ellzey won state titles as a junior and senior at Baker and got her scholarship to Auburn, where she just finished her sophomore year. And now, four years after really getting serious about swimming, it is her turn to compete for the Olympic team.
The Baker graduate is one of seven City of Mobile Swim Association swimmers competing this week in Omaha, Neb., at the U.S. Olympic trials.
“I’m very, very excited, My family is very excited as well,” said Ellzey, who qualified for the meet in the 50-meter freestyle event. “I’ve heard the Olympic trials are unlike any other meet you’ve ever been to because there’s so many people.”
Ellzey and five of the other qualifiers from Mobile — Marlin Brutkiewicz, Carl Madden, Will Glass, PJ Dunne and Russell Noletto — are collegiate athletes who will represent both their colleges and their home swim club, CMSA, at the trials. The seventh CMSA qualifier, Paige Madden, is a student at UMS-Wright.
Swimmers qualify for the trials by meeting a certain time standard in the respective events.
The trials started on Sunday and will continue through this Sunday, July 3. The women’s 500 free, Ellzey’s event, will be held on Saturday. The trials can be seen on NBC and the NBC Sports Network, though some events are tape-delayed, and can be streamed live on the NBC Sports app. (See the full schedule at usaswimming.org and TV listings at nbcsports.com.)
The top two finishers in each event during the trials will make the U.S. Olympic team, along with a few extra qualifiers in certain events to fill out relay teams. The women’s 50 freestyle will be a tough field, headed by 100-meter freestyle American record-holder Simone Manuel and and Olivia Smoliga, who has the short-course American record in the 50 free.
But Ellzey said sprinting events like the 50 free can be unpredictable. “The 50 free is one of those events where it’s anyone’s game,” she said. “The interesting thing about sprinting events is each year, people come out of nowhere and make semis and make finals.”
Ellzey was an All-American as a freshman at Auburn, after winning two AHSAA state titles and making the high school All-American team at Baker. She set Mobile County records in the 50 and 100 freestyle and was a two-time Mobile County Aquatic League female swimmer of the year.
She described her time with Baker’s swim team as “exciting” and “fun,”” with a highlight being the year she got to swim on the same team with her younger sister, who was a freshman when Ellzey was a senior.
This week, Ellzey is looking forward to another highlight at the trials. And if she doesn’t make the team, she said the experience will benefit her for another shot in 2020.
“The whole thing (is) about not giving up yourself,” she said. “It does take work. You have to fall in love with the sport yourself. Your parents can’t do it for you.”