This Girl’s Got Grit
What’s it like for students in the days of COVID-19? Former North Brunswick High School softball star Preston Ellenberg’s story is both somber and inspirational.
The new, online-school reality has been tough for students. Our hearts go out to all the students affected by COVID-19, especially the seniors who are missing out on that once-in-a-lifetime experience of graduation (and maybe even a senior beach trip!). When you hear each individual story, it really hits home on what they are missing.
I want to tell you the story of a local college senior, Preston Ellenberg — not just the interesting path that has brought her to graduation next month, but also what it is like to be a student during a pandemic.
Born in Kenansville, North Carolina, Ellenberg’s family moved to Leland when she was very young and has been here since. Her father Mark Ellenberg, an N.C. State graduate and former Wolfpack football player, owns Farm Bureau Insurance in Brunswick Forest. Her mother, Carter Ellenberg, an East Carolina University graduate, is a computer teacher at Belville Elementary. Ellenberg remembers going to State football and basketball games since she was a baby.
“I would have my Wolfpack outfit on and dad would sit me on his shoulders — that’s how I got to watch the games!” she says. Naturally, she was predisposed to sports as a child and began her sports career at the age of 11 playing softball, soccer, volleyball and golf. “By the time I reached high school, I realized softball was my true passion, so I focused solely on pitching for those four years,” she says.
That proved to be a wise decision. Her junior year she earned all-conference honors and was team MVP. Her senior year she earned team MVP, all-conference honors and was named All-State and the 2A district player of the year. These accomplishments caught the attention of several college scouts, which led to her playing her first semester at Avery University in Danville, Virginia. After only one semester there, she transferred to Catawba College.
“I liked it up there (Avery) in many ways, but just didn’t feel like it was a fit for me,” Ellenberg says. “So, when I got to Catawba College, I decided to try out for their softball team as a walk-on.” She not only made the team, but also helped them win the conference tournament that very spring! Since then, she has been a scholarship player every year.
Now, that doesn’t mean she didn’t have tremendous challenges to overcome playing ball. In the middle of her sophomore year she tore her hip labrum, a result of the repetitive pitching motion. After surgery, she says, “I went from playing softball every day to sitting on the bench that spring and doing the game books.” The rehabilitation was intense and included two to three sessions a day for six months. After the long recovery period, her surgeon finally cleared her to play ball again.
And then the unthinkable happened. Two weeks later she tore the labrum on her other hip while pitching. Another surgery and another six-month rehab! This would test the will of even the most determined athlete. But yet, when the spring season of her junior year opened, she was on the mound ready to go.
“It was tough at first,” she says.
Ellenberg’s willpower was relentless, though, and by the start of this her senior year, she was able to perform once again at a high level.
“I had performances where I was definitely back to the per-surgery me, but some games I struggled because my hips were so achy it bugged me just to walk,” she says.
After playing fall ball in 2019, her team was 22 games into the 2020 spring season when the season was abruptly cancelled due to COVID-19. Describing how it felt to have the season cancelled after all she had been through, she says, “It physically hurt. Like my chest hurt. It made me sick. After all the work I had done to rehab back, just to have my senior season, my senior day and graduation gone… To have a piece of that taken away from you like that — I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Ellenberg had been considering a career in nursing before she began her yearlong rehabilitation.
“Having spent so much time in healthcare facilities during my rehab, I met many nurses who were totally amazing people. I knew then that was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.
She entered the nursing program in the beginning of her junior year and has been on the deans’ list every semester since. Despite the cancellation of graduation ceremonies due to social distancing, the nursing department at Catawba College held a drive-through pinning ceremony for the graduating nursing students.
Finishing the nursing program from home brought new challenges. “The nursing program is already difficult,” she says. “And I learn much better from doing as opposed to reading. The personal interaction with patients and medical coworkers is fulfilling. When we were unable to do clinicals and attend classes, we had to read and learn from textbooks. It just made it that much more of a challenge.”
Ellenberg plans on taking her state boards in June. She has already gotten a job in Raleigh with UNC-Rex as a perioperative nurse starting in July.
“A perioperative nurse is involved with prepping patients for surgery and then post-surgery care,” she says. This will be an excellent experience for her as she will be working closely with surgeons, anesthesiologists, surgical technologists and nurse practitioners. This position will help her reach her ultimate goal of getting her doctorate degree to become a nurse practitioner.
Ellenberg had more challenges than most of us could imagine during her college years, yet she has managed to perform at the highest level in her sports and academics. Her perseverance inspires us all to not give up, no matter what obstacles and challenges we are facing. We look forward to hearing how things go for her in her next chapter of life.
I started out in newspaper world, shooting the NBA, NCAA and MLB in the Midwest. Those were awesome experiences that paved the way for my style of photography today. I started shooting weddings in 2002, and now I average around 50 weddings a year, along with about 150 family photo sessions a year. With McGraw Photo Consulting, I am also a photo consultant, primarily in the dental business. I love traveling, and I love what I do for a living.