Ellie Davenport was only fifteen years old as she sat on the hospital bed, while her mom and doctor looked at each other with concern. Her doctor had just informed her she should consider surgery for her scoliosis, a procedure that would inhibit her from log rolling for months. Ellie countered with an offer; she would consider surgery after she won her first world championship for log rolling.
Three years later, an 18-year-old Ellie mounted the log for the final of the 2016 Log Rolling World Championships. She had made it this far the previous year, losing in a heartbreaking final round. “Losing that year was one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” said Ellie.
2016 would be different. She recalled the moment her opponent had conceded, falling off the log to give Ellie her first World Championship. “I don’t really cry, but when I saw her (the opponent) go under water, I wanted to burst into tears with relief.”
Growing up in Hudson, Wisconsin, Ellie had thrown herself into many sports including cross-country running, soccer, tennis, and even unicycling. The first time she saw log rolling in person was at the local Hudson YMCA. She was just thirteen.
“The people looked like they were having so much fun. I figured my balance was really strong from unicycling, so it would be an easy thing to pick up.”
It wasn’t. Ellie’s first time on the log lasted no more than a second. “I lasted literally milliseconds. But that’s what sparked my interest, seeing the challenge of it,” said Ellie.
She went home to tell her mother she wanted to be a log roller. “She didn’t even know what it was,” Ellie recalled. Nonetheless, Ellie quickly became engulfed in the sport. She attended her first tournament, where she realized log rolling was a sport she was going to pursue seriously, and met some mentors along the way including Jamie Fischer, a multiple world champion.
“That first tournament I remember I got beat pretty bad. But it was the moment I saw log rolling as a sport that I wanted to compete at the highest level in.”
Throughout her first year in the sport, Ellie received unsettling news.
“In 8th grade, my mom saw me bend down to pick something up, and she noticed my back just didn’t look right,” said Ellie. She later went for a checkup at the doctor, where she was informed she had a serious case of scoliosis. “The basic condition of scoliosis is having a 10-degree curve in your back. But I had more. Only a handful of months after log rolling, I was told I would need to wear a body brace.”
The conditions for wearing the brace were intense. The brace had to be worn 23 hours a day, seven days a week, for three years. “It felt like everything I had done for training was washed away. Log rolling is all about balance, and it’s hard to build that with a brace”.
Ellie did find something to occupy her time in the one hour a day without a brace; log rolling. “I realized I didn’t need to use the brace when I was rolling.”
Each day, Ellie retrained her technique and mechanics to adapt more to her body. Scoliosis, with all its challenges, eventually emerged as a strength for her log rolling. “It was hard because I had nobody to look at and mimic in terms of technique. My body wouldn’t work that way, so I decided I would create my own style. I learned to recover using my whole body, and some people have even told me that my scoliosis has made me a better roller.”
Ellie’s orthopedic surgeon, Bruce Bartie, noticed that log rolling improved Ellie’s scoliosis as well. He told the Pioneer Press in 2014, “What I’ve found over my practice is that the kids involved with gymnastics or dance or postural-type sports and activities tend to do better.” He encouraged Ellie to keep rolling because it taught her to consciously tell her spine muscles to strengthen. (See article.)
It turns out log rolling and scoliosis became almost a dynamic duo. Log rolling could strengthen Ellie’s spine and improve her recovery, while her scoliosis acted as a competitive advantage for Ellie on the log.
This three-year journey of living with a brace, adapting her style of rolling, and eventually competing at the top level, all came together as she celebrated with her family and mentors after her first world championship.
Ellie is now a freshman attending the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is eager for spring to arrive, when she will start training to defend her world title.
On pondering her future career with log rolling, Ellie is excited to watch the sport grow.
“I’m also excited to see the new generation of log rollers emerge into the pro ranks. Hopefully I can be someone the younger rollers look up to the way I looked up to my mentors.”
As promised to her doctor, Ellie has considered surgery for her scoliosis, but has yet to decide. While she wants to be known as a log roller first, she hopes that her story can encourage others to try the sport.
“Everyone has challenges, and If I can inspire kids to overcome their challenges with a sport as wild as log rolling, I feel like I’ve played my part in advancing the sport.”
(Photo credit: Aperture by Steve Davis)