Overcoming barriers: Ex-Zionsville Community High School runner pursues Olympic aspirations in steeplechase


Angelina Ellis didn’t even know what the steeplechase was until she got to Butler University.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association doesn’t include the steeplechase in its high school events.

“I saw it in college and thought that’s a different race with all its (fixed) barriers and the water pits,” the 2017 Zionsville Community High School graduate said. “The coach thought I’d be good at it because that’s kind of my distance because it’s 3K. I like 5K and the mile, so that’s right down the middle.”

Ellis was a hurdler as a Zionsville West Middle School sixth-grader before turning to distance running. Her Butler coaches helped her train for the barriers and water.

“It’s basically a flat 3K race with some jumps,” Ellis said.

Ellis said she kept getting better, finishing ninth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Championships. She moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., in October to train with Under Armour’s Mission Run Dark Sky Distance team. She is training with two other steeplechasers and has teammates running other distance events.

Flagstaff is at a 7,000-foot altitude and has extensive training networks. Ellis said that makes it a perfect fit for her.

“The goal is to hopefully have small goals of (personal bests) at all these different races and then be fit and ready to make the U.S. Olympic Trials finals,” Ellis said. “Then, eventually, we’ll see what happens in 2028. If I could make the top seven (in trials), that would be crazy. If I could make the finals, which I think is the top 12, but it keeps changing, that would be amazing.”

The 2024 trials are in Eugene, Ore., in June 2024.

Ellis, 25, said she felt stronger every year at Butler.

“I had great teammates and coaches that pushed me,” she said. “I reached some goals that were attainable and get to where I am today.”

She placed 21st in the 3,000 steeplechase at the NCAA finals in 2021 and redshirted in 2022. She came in ninth place in June of this year.

“Back in high school, the younger me would not have believed I would place that high at nationals,” she said.

She was never all-state in cross country in high school. The only time she placed in the state was when her team finished the 3,200 relay.

“I was never a super competitive runner in high school,” Ellis said.

In addition, Ellis said she had low iron issues in high school.

“I would pass out after races,” she said. “I didn’t know what the issue was. I thought it was normal to feel fatigued after racing. My senior year at state cross country, I passed out right before the finish line, and then I crawled over the finish line. They thought maybe it was the heat. We really didn’t know what it was. I just thought it was low iron and hormonal imbalance.”

Those issues were not a problem at Butler.

Angelina Ellis had a standout career at Butler University. (Photo courtesy of Butler athletics)

“Once I got to college and regulated my sleep, diet and iron intake, I got a lot stronger,” Ellis said. “I stopped passing out and my training was more consistent.”

Butler track and field coach Matt Roe said Ellis improved steadily.

“She was a very solid high school runner, at best,” Roe said. “She had three (NCAA) Division I schools that were recruiting her (including Butler). Mostly, she was being recruited by Division III schools. When I saw her run in high school, I thought she broke very well, and she had a lot of upside even though her times weren’t super spectacular.”

Roe said Ellis was able to avoid injury.

“She is structurally really strong, and she has really good biomechanics,” Roe said. “That’s something you can’t teach or coach, but it’s something that would be beneficial as far as tolerating training. Her willingness to work at a high level and train at a high level is a special talent. It’s pivotal at the next level, and she had that in spades. I think that’s why she got better and better.”

Ellis said she determined she was most competitive in the steeplechase as her college career progressed.

“The challenge is endurance and strength,” she said. “It’s like an obstacle course.”

Roe said Ellis is exceptionally athletic.

“She has great timing, which is important in the steeple,” Roe said.

Angelina Ellis graduated from Butler University in May with a master’s degree in business administration. (Photo courtesy of Abby Fostveit)

Meet Angelina Ellis

Personal: Ellis graduated in May from Butler with a master’s degree in business administration

Favorite athletes: “Honestly, it’s my teammates that inspired me and really believed in me, especially at Butler. Looking at their dedication has helped me get to where I am today.

Hobbies: Fashion, occasional modeling, cooking.

Favorite genre of music: “I listen to all kinds of music, except country.”

Favorite movie: “Shadow Island”

Favorite subject: Chinese, did an internship in China in the summer of 2019.

Siblings: Twin brother Azariah competed in soccer and wrestling at Zionsville Community High School. Has older sister Holly, who played soccer at ZCHS.


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