U.S. Olympic Women's Team Inspired by Make-A-Wish Visit in Rio

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | Aug. 15, 2016, 8:39 p.m. (ET)
The U.S. Olympic Women's Volleyball Team meets with Adrian Ell (backrow center) and her family during the squad's training day at the Brazil Naval School in Rio de Janeiro.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 15, 2016) – Adrian Ell of Cincinnati, Ohio, has a dream to play volleyball in the Olympic Games, with the hopes of hitting the courts in 2024. Today, though, she had an amazing experience at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games meeting the stars of today on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Team at the squad’s High Performance Training Center at the Naval School in Rio de Janeiro.

The U.S. Olympic Team is 5-0 at the 2016 Rio Games and headed into a key quarterfinal round knockout match with Japan on Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Yet the players took time out of their busy training day on Monday to visit with Ell, a Make-A-Wish recipient who dreams of a future life full of health along with a heavy dose of volleyball.

Ell, who will be a senior setter at McNicholas High School in Cincinnati, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last August and has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy and 20 doses of radiation interrupting her junior volleyball season last fall.

Related: U.S. Olympic Women's Team MicroSite

As part of her Make-A-Wish experience, Ell got to meet the U.S. Olympic Team up close and personal, watching the three setters like a hawk picking up their habits and techniques along the way. She chatted with U.S. Olympic Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly and other members of the elite team. Ell also got a behind-the-scenes look at how the team trains off the court.

One of Ell’s highlights was also talking with fellow Cincinnati native Rachael Adams, who has started all five Olympic Games preliminary round matches at middle for Team USA.

“It is so cool to see someone from Cincinnati make it to the Olympics,” Ell said on meeting Adams. “I am hoping to follow in her footsteps and a role model to look up to.”

Adams feels her and her teammates got as much out of Ell’s visit as she did.

“We say it all the time as a team, but what we do is bigger than ourselves,” Adams said. “It is bigger than us playing on the court. To inspire others to go for their dreams and to play for something bigger than ourselves is what it is all about for our team. So having her here is pretty awesome.”

Ell, as a setter, naturally looks toward the setters as her role models on the Olympic Team.

“All the setters, Alisha (Glass), Courtney (Thompson) and Carli (Lloyd) are all great people to look up to,” Ell said. “I am hoping to do good things like them.”

Ell has a solid volleyball background herself, even with the health setback that cost her last season on the court. Earlier this summer the setter helped NKYVC 17-1 Tsunami win the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships 17 National Division title in Indianapolis. Starting next month she will play her final high school season at McNicholas High School and has chosen to play for another club in the Cincinnati area within the Ohio Valley Region this spring before heading to Florida State University where she has verbally committed to play volleyball.

Ell also participated in USA Volleyball’s High Performance Women’s Junior A2 program in Las Vegas from Aug. 1-5.

“I tried out in Indianapolis before one of our big qualifier tournaments, and I made the top camp out in Las Vegas and I accepted,” Ell said on competing in the USAV High Performance Women’s Junior A2 Program. “I just got back a couple weeks ago. It was so much fun, got to meet a lot of new people, a lot of people who I will probably be playing in college. The coaches were amazing. I know it will help me get to the next level and it was a great experience.”

Hearing that Ell looks up to her, Thompson felt that she and her teammates look up to her as well.

“Well, I am looking up to her. She is quite a bit taller than me,” Thompson joked, pointing out the five-inch height advantage Adrian has over her. “It is awesome and we are excited to have Adrian here today. We love what we do, so anytime we can share that with other people what they love to do – it is awesome. We are really excited to follow Adrian next year at Florida State.”

Near the end of her visit at the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team’s training site in Rio, Team USA presented Ell with an autographed jersey signed by all 12 players and coaches on the team capping an already special memory.

“This is amazing. It is my dream to play,” Ell said. “So watching it is a dream come true. Talking with the girls was so amazing. They are such great people and great role models to look up to. Then talking to Karch and his knowledge of the game is amazing. So talking to him is pretty amazing as well.”

Ell’s mother, Angel Miller-Ell, feels this trip has already done wonders for the spirit of her daughter.

“This trip means a world to her and us,” Angel said. “We are a volleyball family through and through. To actually be here on the court with these (Olympic) ladies and Karch is incredible. This is actually her wish come true.”

In summing up her experience, Adrian felt like she was in a dream surrounded by her heroes.

“It is amazing,” Adrian said. “Being here I feel is so surreal. It is a dream. It is so fun to be here and supporting the USA Volleyball Team.”

Her mother echoed how amazing the experience has been for Adrian.

“Coming to the Olympics through Make-A-Wish and getting to meet the Olympic Team has been incredible,” Angel said. “It is Adrian’s dream to be on the Olympic Team one day, and this was an obvious choice for us to Make-a-Wish to come to the Olympics and watch."

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