All it took was one call from Drake University.
Originally signing in the spring of 2018 to take part in cross country and track and field at Concordia University at Seward, Nebraska, Denison-Schleswig standout Ellie Mendlik realized the opportunity to run for an NCAA, Division I school was just too good to pass up.
So the four-time state cross country and state track and field qualifier at Denison High School took her talents to Drake University at Des Moines.
In her senior year at Denison, Mendlik placed third in 400-meter dash (56.80) and ran on the Monarchs’ fifth-place sprint medley relay team (1:50.39) in the Class 3A portion of the state meet at Drake Stadium at Des Moines.
She also was a member of Denison-Schleswig’s 4x100 relay team that qualified for the Drake Relays her senior year.
"I really liked Concordia and the feel there, but ultimately, being closer to my family made the decision to attend Drake that much easier. And the chance to run at the Division I level is something pretty special and I wanted to take full advantage of that," commented Mendlik.
An injury (shin splints) kept Mendlik sidelined for the majority of her first cross country season in the fall of 2018.
After that, she made the switch to just track and field and that energized the daughter of Jay and Tracy Mendlik of Denison into outstanding results throughout her initial year and a half of competition.
At the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Championships that took place February 29 through March 1 at the University of Northern Iowa at Cedar Falls, Mendlik placed 11th overall in the 400 (58.66) and ran on the Bulldogs’ fifth-place 4x400 relay team.
Little did Mendlik and her Drake teammates comprehend at the time that competing at UNI would be the last time they take the track this spring, as the outdoor portion of their 2020 schedule was completely wiped out by Covid-19 and Coronavirus pandemic.
The Drake track and field teams were scheduled to open their outdoor season on March 28 at the Jim Duncan Invitational at Drake Stadium.
Mendlik, like most student-athletes across the state of Iowa and around the nation, are now taking online classes at home for the remainder of the school year.
"Drake was one of the last schools to shut down completely, as it just made the decision on March 25 to go to online classes," Mendlik said.
With spring break taking place before the shutdown, Mendlik returned home with just laundry, her computer and a few other items from her dorm, thinking it was just going to be for a week.
"Now we can’t even get back into our dorm until May 9. Thankfully, I brought all of my books home. It is annoying, though, because some things I need I have no way of getting," Mendlik stated.
Being told of the season being canceled did take an initial emotional toll on Mendlik.
"I didn’t take the news very well. We just can’t catch a break. We’ve gone through three coaches in the first semester. Then we finally get a good coach and the season gets canceled," Mendlik said.
"It just took the wind out of me, because last year I was injured and I didn’t perform to the level that I’m used to, so this season was going to be a confidence-builder for me. Not having that now is sad and not being with my teammates is sad," she added.
"Also, I worked hard to get into shape and I feel like I was in my best shape heading into the outdoor season. That’s why it’s so frustrating, because I did put in the work and now I’m not going to get a chance to see that pay off," stated Mendlik, who is in the Pre-Law program at Drake.
Making the transition from high school to Division I is difficult, but doable if that person has dedication and commitment, according to Mendlik.
"I went from being a two-sport athlete in high school to making track and field a job. It’s in the training room and all of the time spent outside of practice that pays the most dividends. It’s really like a job instead of just an extra-curricular activity," Mendlik said.
"It was difficult at the start, because success at this level takes a lot more hours than I have ever put in. The good thing is that I’m doing it with a group of people who have the same dreams and want the same outcome as you do. That makes it a lot easier."
Mendlik quickly found out that the talent at the Division I level is nothing like high school.
"It might a big hit to someone’s ego. You can come in after being the big man on campus in high school and find out quick that you’re just average or below at this level. If you’re competitive like I am, though, it really benefits you, because I’ve had the taste of success and I will do what it takes to continue to succeed,"Mendlik said.
Staying in shape
Despite her 2020 outdoor season being taken away, Mendlik says that she still finds ways to stay active and in shape for what she hopes is a return to the sport she so loves.
"I’ve been taking long walks and I ride the bicycle every once in a while, as well as go to the track when I can," Mendlik said.
"I also run the trails at Yellow Smoke Park and it seems like I find a different trail every time. I’m also doing core exercises at home, so I’m doing what I can to stay in active," she added.
Remembering what’s important
Not being able to participate in something you love is difficult, but Mendlik is trying to make the best of a not-so-good moment in her life.
"I think my mindset has really changed over the last week or so. A week ago, I was not the happiest person to be around, but then I got thinking that a lot of people have it worse than I do," Mendlik said.
"I still have a home to go to and my family to be around. I still get to practice even if by myself, so I just think about how lucky I am to be in a situation like I am," she added.
Plus, a family monopoly tournament, while playing basketball and chasing each other around the house helps, according to Mendlik.
"I also take a lot of pictures with my sister Lola as my model," noted Mendlik, whose brother, Jack, is a senior at Denison High School and home right now because of the pandemic and unsure if he’ll be able to finish out his senior year at school.
Advice to ponder
Mendlik understands that a lot of student-athletes are going through tough and challenging times right now.
She offers these words of encouragement.
"Don’t lose your heart and hope. Find something that you like to do that normally would be occupied by your sport right now, whether it be writing, reading or taking pictures of your little sister. Find something to keep you engaged," Mendlik said.
Life is changing at a rapid pace today and no one really knows what the future looks like, but Mendlik is moving forward.
"We’re not playing on a level playing field. This once-in-lifetime virus is after us. We all have to lay low for now and we’ll get through this," Mendlik said.
"Please. Practice social distancing. We have to make sacrifices now, so we won’t have to make them for a long time," she added.