NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma men’s gymnast Presten Ellsworth didn’t plan on going to the Dominican Republic.
The Allen, Texas, native was simply going into another three months of conditioning and training with an internship sprinkled in between his time at the Viersen Center. The reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Year knew it was an important offseason – it’s the last he has before starting his senior season at OU in 2014.
Then a call came. The internship Ellsworth had been excited for had fallen through at the last minute. With the summer already started and other opportunities passed, the chance for real-world experience had seemingly passed him by.
But, said Ellsworth, “As they say, when one door closes another door opens.”
Two days later, his girlfriend called. Family friends ran a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian group called Athletic Missions International (AIM) that teaches children sports skills in third-world countries. Would he like to come along on a trip?
Ellsworth did. There were just two issues. First, OU head coach Mark Williams would have to grant permission as the he and the group from AIM would be gone during a full week of training.
But knowing his gymnast’s eagerness and the way such opportunities can change a young man’s life for the better, Williams gave special permission for Ellsworth to make the trip.
Yet with one hurdle down, there was still another to go. The group left in just three days and Ellsworth did not have a valid passport.
“I found out Sunday, drove down to Dallas and was at the passport office from 7:30 to 4:30 all day Monday,” Ellsworth said. “Tuesday I flew to the Dominican Republic.”
According to their website, the mission of AIM is “to teach the gospel through the use of sports.” Ellsworth joined a group of almost 100 working with kids through different skills. Every day they would come and learn, sometimes drawing adults wishing to join in.
“The kids out there are so naturally, unbelievably talented at all sports, but they don’t have the proper coaching or the proper equipment,” Ellsworth said. “We showed them how to throw, what’s the correct technique to catch and things like that. While we were doing that we’d have testimonies at the end of each day talking about how we got there and what Christ had done for us and could do for them.”
Ellsworth was assigned to the city of Sosua on the northern coast of the country, teaching basketball, baseball, soccer and volleyball skills. Ellsworth also had time to show off his gymnastics abilities, “but it was just me doing it to get the kids rowdy,” Ellsworth said with a grin.
After finishing out the week with a few days snorkeling and fishing, Ellsworth returned to Norman and day-to-day life. But the trip made a lasting impression that he will take throughout the upcoming year and the rest of his life.
“It’s very rare for us to go out of the country because of the schedules that we have,” Ellsworth said. “The whole thing was absolutely amazing. It was eye-opening to see just how much we have and what others don’t have. It helped me appreciate what we have here. I hope I can make it a tradition every year.”