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Fleet-footed Ellsworth sisters help pace BYU to storied Penn Relays relay title

Decades from now, when Brigham Young University’s Ellsworth sisters are no longer fleet of foot and winning races, they will likely remember the end of April 2022 as if it were yesterday.

But if one Ellsworth forgets a detail or two, the other can refresh her memory.

Both Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes and her younger sister and Cougar teammate, Alena Ellsworth, were crowned champions on April 29 at Philadelphia’s storied Penn Relays. 

The two Latter-day Saint siblings were part of BYU’s four-athlete team that won the Penn Relays’ college women’s distance medley competition. The relay event features teammates who aggregate their times from their assigned distances: 1,600 meters, 1,200 meters, 800 meters and 400 meters.

Seniors Ellsworth-Barnes and Ellsworth ran the 1,200-meter and 400-meter legs, respectively. They were joined on the winning relay team by BYU’s Claire Seymour (800 meters) and Courtney Wayment (1600 meters).

The Cougars’ winning time of 10 minutes, 50 seconds was more than five ticks faster than their nearest competitor, Ole Miss. It also marked a historic moment for the Church-sponsored school. Winning a Penn Relay “Wheel” was a first for BYU’s decorated track and field program.

“It was something special to hand off  [the relay baton] to my sister and know that she was going to get the job done — along with some of our best friends, Claire and Courtney,” said Ellsworth-Barnes. “And it was amazing to be able to hold up the Wheel together.”

Each competitor on the BYU medley relay team, added Ellsworth, has had to overcome some form of adversity in recent years — making their Penn Relays victory even sweeter.

“Just the fact that each one of us was there was a miracle,” she said. “Each person on our relay has had something in their life that could have caused them to walk away from the sport. … But instead, they rose up and they kept going.” 

The 2022 Penn Relays was not the first national event the Ellsworth sisters have won together in the distance medley relay. Last year, they were part of BYU’s NCAA indoor championship winning relay team.

Sisters and BYU track and field teammates, Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes, left, and Alena Ellsworth, made up half of the women’s college distance relay team that claimed a Penn Relays title on April 29, 2022.

Sisters and BYU track and field teammates, Lauren Ellsworth-Barnes, left, and Alena Ellsworth, made up half of the women’s college distance relay team that claimed a Penn Relays title on April 29, 2022.

Credit: Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

Raised in Gilbert, Arizona, the Ellsworth sisters grew up in an athletic family of five siblings. And yes, “everything was a competition,” Ellsworth-Barnes said with a laugh. “Just leaving the grocery store would turn into a race to see who could touch the car first.”

As kids, both young Lauren and young Alena were competitive soccer players and swimmers. The elder sister was the first to discover track because, well, she was very fast. Younger sister eventually followed.

“Sometimes, during the high school soccer season, I would look over and see the track kids getting ready,” recalled Ellsworth. “I found myself wanting to be with them. That’s when I knew track would be my sport.”

Both sisters appreciate the challenges and opportunities that have come wearing the BYU uniform. They are humble representing a Church-sponsored institution.

A returned missionary who served in the Iowa Des Moines Mission and a wife (her husband is Nathan Barnes), Ellsworth-Barnes said her Church service and gospel testimony have lifted her as an athlete and a Latter-day Saint. 

“I feel empowered by the gospel and how it can bring people together,” added Ellsworth. “It’s amazing to see how people look up to the Church and BYU and what we are doing.”

The Ellsworth sisters and their BYU teammates now continue with their 2022 spring season that will culminate with the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, from June 8-11.

The BYU athletes are not the only Latter-day Saints enjoying success in U.S. collegiate track and field competitions.

Oklahoma State’s Taylor Roe has established herself as one of the nation’s top college distance runners. During the recent 2022 NCAA indoor season, the Washington native won the national championship in the 3,000 meters. She was named the Big 12 Conference’s Women’s Performer of the Year after setting a conference record in the mile.

In a 2021 Church News interview, Roe spoke of the gratitude she feels for the gospel.

“My whole approach to running is to appreciate it as a gift from our Heavenly Father,” she said. “It’s a gift that I choose to fulfill by maxing out my potential and striving each day to do my best. It is a blessing.”

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