Tennessee senior Ellen Wortham will turn another page of her career after this week's NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
Nothing she can't handle.
The former Maryville High School star has big plans for her running future — hopefully making the U.S. Team for the London Olympics this summer and then running professionally — but she has other options as well.
She carries a 3.88 GPA in psychology, is a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient and was the 2012 SEC track and field co-scholar-athlete of the Year. She plans to attend graduate school while continuing her running career.
All that can wait until after she competes in the NCAAs for the fourth and last time.
"You come to the end of your college career, and you're excited to move on to the next stage," Wortham said. "But you're also like, 'Wow, this is the last time I'm going to be here after being there for four years.'
"It's good and it's bad. It's bittersweet, but I'm definitely looking forward to the next stage."
Wortham's first race will be the 4x400-meter relay semifinals Wednesday. She will run the semifinals of the 400 hurdles later that night.
If she advances, finals of the 400 hurdles are Friday, while finals of the 4x400 relay are Saturday if the Lady Vols advance.
Wortham enters her final NCAA meet as the two-time SEC outdoor champion in the 400 hurdles after breaking Sharrieffa Barksdale's 28-year-old school record with a time of 55.55 seconds at the SEC championships last month.
UT coach J.J. Clark won't be surprised by anything Wortham ac
"If you are in a championship setting, and you want something done not just well but in dramatically-great fashion, Ellen Wortham is someone you want on your team," Clark said. "Over the past few years and at our past several championship meets, I'm always looking for something great to happen, and Ellen has provided something electrifying for our program.
"It doesn't matter whether it's a relay, an open event, or whether she's trying to create enthusiasm and excitement for our team through her leadership or performances, she makes an impact."
Her impact as a runner started as a youngster. She was a natural runner – and she thrived on competition.
"I just like winning," Wortham said. "That's what I tried to do every time I would go out and run, but other people saw a potentially great athlete in me.
When I was younger, we just kind of brushed it off, like, 'Oh, she's only 10.' But you just keep working hard and you get to that point."
Academics didn't come as easily for Wortham.
She had a difficult time learning how to read, and she had trouble with mathematics when she was a youngster.
Through the years, however, Wortham learned she could excel in the classroom with hard work the same way she did on the track.
"I started learning how I could learn things better studying, and by the time I got to college it was easy for me because I had all these strategies that teachers in the past, including my mom (Donna), have helped me with," Wortham said. "Just working hard and sticking to the plan basically has made me a successful athlete and student."
Wortham carried her success while at Maryville — she was 2008 Class AAA state champion in the pentathlon and high jump — over to the Lady Vols.
Her first appearance at the NCAA outdoors was as a freshman when she ran a leg of the seventh-place 4x100 relay team.
She won an NCAA indoor title as a sophomore as a member of UT's distance-medley relay team. In the spring of 2010, Wortham finished eighth in the 400 hurdles in the NCAA outdoors.
Wortham expects a better finish this year than 2011 when she finished seventh in a semifinal heat, 13th overall outdoors.
"I think that I'm more prepared this year in that everything has been going pretty smoothly," Wortham said. "I know that I have one of the best times right now, and I guess I'm going to have a better lane this year because I had a better time at regionals, so I'm pretty confident about that. I'm excited to go out there and see what I can do."
UT Takes 17: Eleven Lady Vols and six men qualified for Tennessee for a total of 17, up from 11 last year.
Besides Wortham, the women are Annie Alexander (shot, discus), Linda Hadfield (pole vault), Chanelle Price (800), Brittany Sheffey (1500), Brittany Jones (200) and two relay teams.
The men qualified Matt Hoty (shot put), Chase Brannon (pole vault) and a 4x100 relay team.
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.