April 20, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Dawn Ellerbe admits she sometimes forgets where she left her car keys, but the former South Carolina track and field All-American and Olympian doesn’t forget what she learned as a Gamecock student-athlete when it comes to personal responsibility.
“I remember one thing that (former Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academics) Harold White told me was that an emergency on my part doesn’t make it an emergency on my professor’s part,” Ellerbe said. “That stuck with me for my whole career. So if I’m late on something, it was my fault for not getting it done in time. That mentality of being prepared stuck with me.
“Coach (Curtis) Frye came in as our coach my senior year, and he always told us to think about the big picture and what it’s like to win a team championship, and what it’s like to treat yourself like a professional athlete. Those things prepared me well for a job in college athletics.”
Ellerbe is currently in her fourth year as the Associate Athletics Director for Marketing, Branding and Fan Development at Cal State Northridge. Originally from Central Islip, N.Y., Ellerbe, was very excited when she was offered a scholarship to compete at South Carolina.
“South Carolina was the right fit for me because it was a program that was really building,” Ellerbe said. “I had a chance to really grow while I was there. My coach most of the time at South Carolina was Larry Judge. We were always prepared. Our training was always intense. A lot of times, our training was more intense than our actual competition. He prepared us to always be ‘on’ and ready. Later Coach Frye came in, and he always had these chants that he’d say over and over, like ‘if it’s to be, it’s up to me.’ ”
Ellerbe also appreciated Coach Frye’s consistent recognition of what his student-athletes were doing in the classroom in addition to their achievements while competing.
“He acknowledged us for what we did in the classroom, on the track and in the community,” Ellerbe said. “That really stuck with me. That’s how I try to treat the student-athletes that I work with now.”
During her time as a Gamecock, Ellerbe was a four-time NCAA champion, six-time All-American and five-time Southeastern Conference champion in throw events.
“I think my most memorable moment was when we were in Eugene, Oregon at Hayward Field, and I won my first national title in outdoor track,” Ellerbe recalled. “We had a really tight group of throwers. That’s when I realized that all the work we put in as a group had paid off. I remember being in the moment and enjoying it. That’s one of the first times I felt like a really good athlete, and I felt like I was great at what I was doing.”
The opening ceremonies and actually competing are my favorite memories of the Olympics.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina in 1997, Ellerbe followed her former coach, Larry Judge, to the University of Wyoming where she served as an assistant coach while earning her master’s degree. With all of that, she was still competing.
“I trained for the Olympics, coached full time and went to graduate school,” Ellerbe said. “When I went there, my goal was to make the Olympic team, and that’s what I did.”
Along the way, Ellerbe continued to excel as a five-time USA Indoor champion (1996, 1998–2001) and six-time USA Outdoor champion in the hammer throw (1995–2001). She also won the gold medal at the 1999 Pan American Games before competing in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
“The opening ceremonies and actually competing are my favorite memories of the Olympics,” Ellerbe said. “Hammer throwers don’t always get to compete on such a grand stage. So to walk in and see the venue full and all the fans cheering for every throw, it was amazing.”
Ellerbe retired from competitions in 2004.
“It was just time,” Ellerbe said. “There were some nagging injuries. Once you get to the top, it’s really hard to stay there. I had just turned 30, so it was time to hang it up and focus on my career. I wanted to work in special events, public relations, and marketing.”
She began working at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia before working in the athletics department at South Carolina as the Director of Marketing for Olympic sports.
“I was working for my alma mater, so I really liked that,” Ellerbe said. “I want to give back to college athletics. I’m not coaching anymore, and I’m not a professor. But when a student-athlete walks into a full arena, and you know you had something to do with that, and the fans are having a good time, which adds to the experience of the student-athlete, I just really love that part of my job.”
Ellerbe later worked as the Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing for four years at California State University, East Bay, before moving on to her current position at Cal State Northridge.
As South Carolina prepares to host the SEC Outdoor Championships May 11-13 on its brand new Cregger Track and Field facility, Ellerbe looks forward to returning to Columbia to visit old friends and see the next generation of world class competitors.
“I plan on being there for an alumni reunion that we’ll have for that,” Ellerbe said. “I’m very excited to see the new facility. The growth at South Carolina has been awesome.”
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