Jill Ellis' Message to Canes: "Be a Voice"
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – It was, Jill Ellis recalled, an “amazing” stretch.
But it wasn’t always easy and it brought with it a series of headshaking moments.
As the U.S. Women’s National Team stormed through last summer’s World Cup tournament, Ellis and her players found themselves under an increasing amount of scrutiny.
Across the globe, the questions kept coming. Were the Americans too arrogant throughout their dominant run? Had they been gracious enough after some of their big wins? Did everything with them have to be so intense?
“Can you imagine someone calling the Kansas City Chiefs too intense? Talk about a double standard,” Ellis noted Sunday at the University of Miami’s Celebration of Women’s Athletics. “But that’s the added pressure when you become a female athlete.”
At Sunday’s event, Ellis – who was honored as the 2019 FIFA Coach of the Year after leading the USWNT to its second straight and fourth overall World Cup title – wanted to make it clear no athlete should apologize for being successful, driven or for wanting the best.
Her hope, she noted after her speech, was that all of the Hurricanes female student-athletes in the room walked away from the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility feeling more empowered and inspired than when they walked into the building.
“I think more and more, especially being part of last summer with the power of this women’s team and the platform that we have to champion women, I think the time is now,” said Ellis, a South Florida resident who is a frequent visitor to the Miami campus. “You’ve got the Time’s Up movement, you’ve got all these things saying, ‘Women, don’t just find your voice. Be vocal. Be a voice’ and I think the message to young people is don’t just take what’s given to you. Ask for more, expect more of yourself and of that around you. You have to be bold.
“I think, we’re socialized from such a young age, to sit there and accept and be appreciative. A good friend of mine, Abby Wambach, once said the one emotion we’re allowed to have is gratitude. Well, it should be about more than having gratitude. That’s part of it, but we should want to have seats at the table. We should want to be paid equally. We should want to have these things and that’s why I think it’s so important to have those conversations. That’s why, truthfully, it was important for me for me to look at all those young athletes in this room, whether they’re freshmen or heading out into the world as seniors, that they realize the power within themselves as elite athletes, that they have already experienced so much, they already have so many inner qualities to now take out into that big old world.”
On and off the field, the 11 student-athletes recognized at Sunday’s Celebration of Women’s Athletics have shown their drive pursue excellence.
Tennis player Estela Perez-Somarriba is reigning a national champion. So, too, is track athlete Michelle Atherley. Sprinter Brittny Ellis won multiple ACC titles while becoming a registered nurse. Junior Renate Grimstad is playing some of the best golf of her life, while posting a 3.85 GPA and growing increasingly more comfortable as she ignores critics on social media. Rower Meredith Costello has captured an ACC bronze medal and worked with children in Vietnam to promote higher education and physical fitness and gifted thrower Debbie Ajagbe is a two-time ACC champion who is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree and studying Japanese.
They and the rest of the student-athlete winners honored at Sunday’s event have already left their mark at Miami. And both Ellis and Jennifer Strawley, Miami’s Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer who helped organize Sunday’s Celebration, expressed confidence they’ll only continue making a difference.
“I think for me, to be able to see the growth and impact of an event like this, where we can celebrate the amazing accomplishments of our student-athletes is really special,” Strawley said. “When you hear their stories and what they’ve accomplished, you’re just totally moved by who they are as people. … You know they’re going to make a difference in our world.”
Said Ellis, “Athletes, you may leave The U with a championship ring. You may not. But armed with your education and a healthy desire to win, you will be unstoppable and you will find success.”