Embracing Pain: The Story of a Pride Record Holder’s Journey to Recovery

Leesville alum Carson Ellerby, right, runs in a tight pack in a cross country race. Ellerby holds three school records in the indoor 1600 meters, the indoor 1000 meters, and the outdoor 800 meters, and also owns the fifth best time in the five kilometers in Leesville history. (Photo used by permission of Carson Ellerby)Leesville alum Carson Ellerby, right, runs in a tight pack in a cross country race. Ellerby holds three school records in the indoor 1600 meters, the indoor 1000 meters, and the outdoor 800 meters, and also owns the fifth best time in the five kilometers in Leesville history. (Photo used by permission of Carson Ellerby)

Carson Ellerby can’t recall exactly what happened on that midsummer evening.

“I was just running,” said Ellerby.

It was the night of July 20, 2016; the Leesville alum was jogging near Brier Creek in the Raleigh/Durham area. As a cross country and track runner, he had run along sidewalks and busy streets countless times.

Ellerby came up on the intersection of T.W. Alexander Drive and Brier Club Lane. He remembered being close to his parked car, just a little ways away.

Taking a risk, Ellerby decided to cross T.W. Alexander Drive. He started to jog across the six lanes of traffic.

But he didn’t make it to the other side of the road.

In an instant, a car traveling eastward struck Ellerby as he ran out into the street. Immediately, he fell hard to the ground on his left leg.

According to the police report, the vehicle was traveling an original 60 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. At the point of impact, the car was moving at an approximate 52 miles per hour, sending Ellerby backward 87 feet.

In a split second, Ellerby’s whole life seemed to come to a halt.

A Special Talent

Growing up, Ellerby was always athletically skilled, playing soccer for a time. He also was an avid reader, spending his free time reading books and Wikipedia pages.

Carson Ellerby (center) races in a cross country meet as a member of the Leesville cross country team. Ellerby first started running in sixth grade when he participated in the Raleigh RunDown Downhill Mile. (Photo used by permission of Carson Ellerby)

Carson Ellerby (center) races in a cross country meet as a member of the Leesville cross country team. Ellerby first started running in sixth grade when he participated in the Raleigh RunDown Downhill Mile. (Photo used by permission of Carson Ellerby)

But it wasn’t until he ran in the Raleigh RunDown Downhill Mile in sixth grade that Ellerby discovered he had a special talent for running.

“I did okay, and then I was into running even more as I continued into seventh and eighth grade,” said Ellerby. “I was pretty good at it.”

He took his newfound skill and ran with it, literally, running on the track and field team at Leesville Road Middle School. As an eighth grader, Ellerby broke out as a stellar mile and 800 meter racer, solidifying him as a specialized distance runner.

Towards the end of Ellerby’s eighth grade year, Mark McLamb, head coach of the high school cross country and track and field teams at Leesville at the time, visited and talked to Ellerby and his middle school track team. Instantly, Ellerby knew that he wanted to continue his running career at the high school level.

“I was very excited to run for high school,” said Ellerby.

His freshman year, Ellerby ran for both the cross country and track teams at Leesville, competing as a junior varsity racer. The following year as a sophomore, he was elevated to a varsity runner on both of the teams, impressively improving his five kilometer personal record race time by almost a full minute. On the track, Ellerby notably placed ninth in the 800 meters at the NCHSAA 4A State Championship with a time of 1:59.74.

Ellerby’s big breakout year as a runner didn’t come until his senior year. That year, he proved himself to be one of the best distance runners in Leesville’s program history.

He set a personal best of 15:47.812 in the 5k at the 4A Mideast Regional, a time which currently stands as the fifth best time in Leesville cross country history. During indoor and outdoor track, Ellerby’s skill and speed helped him set school records in three events: the indoor 1600 meters, the indoor 1000 meters, and the outdoor 800 meters.

Ellerby also ran in the Emerging Elite division of the 800 meters at New Balance Nationals, one of the most distinguished high school track and field meets in the country, the summer after his senior year.

In addition to participating in the Leesville track and cross country programs in high school, Ellerby ran youth AAU track during the summers as a member of the successful Carolina Elite Track and Field Club in North Raleigh.

“[I enjoy] just the harness of [running], feeling the burn and everything,” said Ellerby.

Ellerby’s constant motivation to improve as a racer helped inspire his teammates to possess the same determined mentality that he owned. Nathan Gamble, a Leesville alum who was a teammate of his during Ellerby’s senior year, said Ellerby served as a role model, and Gamble wanted to someday achieve the feats that Ellerby had in the sport of running.

“He was someone I really looked up to on the team,” said Gamble via text. “I always looked at him and his times as sort of a ‘standard of excellence.’”

Ellerby enjoyed serving as an inspiration to his young, aspiring teammates, and he relished working at practice day in and day out to improve.

“[I enjoyed] just the long runs and everything and just being able to be a leader of the team,” said Ellerby.

The success that Ellerby achieved on the track and cross country courses helped him land a spot on the track and cross country teams at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He ran as a member of the 49ers during his freshman year of college and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he participated in the club cross country program.

Running has the reputation of being a grueling and painful sport, but Ellerby loves embracing the pain that many runners despair.

“[I enjoy] just the harness of [running], feeling the burn and everything,” said Ellerby.

The Road to Recovery

That enjoyment was taken away from Ellerby the night of the damaging accident.

Ellerby recovers at UNC hospital with his aunt by his side. After his accident, Ellerby spent time in rehab and hospital facilities at WakeMed, Duke, Chapel Hill, Sheperd Hospital in Atlanta, and Sheperd Pathways in Decatur, Georgia. (Photo used by permission of Carson Ellerby)

Ellerby recovers at UNC hospital with his aunt by his side. After his accident, Ellerby spent time in rehab and hospital facilities at WakeMed, Duke, Chapel Hill, Sheperd Hospital in Atlanta, and Sheperd Pathways in Decatur, Georgia. (Photo used by permission of Carson Ellerby)

Immediately, Ellerby was rushed from the scene of the accident to WakeMed Healthplex just down the road and was treated for several injuries.

Ellerby was in a coma for a couple of weeks and suffered extensive injuries to his legs and spine, including multiple fractures in both his legs and four to six spinal fractures and issues.

Most significantly, Ellerby was diagnosed with a TBI—a traumatic brain injury.

Once Ellerby woke up from his coma and realized the extent of the damage the accident caused him, he wasn’t depressed or angry like most people would assume. Instead, he was positive and expressed emotions of remorse towards the driver who hit him.

“I felt actually better than you would expect,” said Ellerby. “I don’t remember the guy or anything like that, so I forgive him. That’s all you can do—forgive.”

What came next was the start of a long recovery process to rehabilitate Ellerby and bring him back to full physical and mental strength.

Ellerby remained at WakeMed Hospital from July 20, 2016 until December 6, 2016, and then spent time participating in therapy at Duke and Chapel Hill medical centers. On January 15, 2017, Ellerby then traveled 407 miles from Raleigh to Atlanta where he spent time at Sheperd Hospital. While in Georgia, he also visited Sheperd Pathways, a rehabilitation center in the city of Decatur. Then, on May 12, he returned back to Raleigh to continue rehabilitation at Duke and Chapel Hill.

In addition to spending time in rehab, Ellerby underwent surgery on his left knee to clean out debris from the bone. Last month, pins were also placed in Ellerby’s toes, and they were removed on October 17.

As one can imagine, Ellerby has had to overcome many obstacles on his road to recovery. One of the challenging struggles he has faced is learning how to write again, but his handwriting is slowly improving.

“I’m not the same person as I was this time last year, so I really appreciate it,” said Ellerby.

“I had very neat handwriting before [the accident],” said Ellerby. “I’m getting back to impulsively writing, which I shouldn’t be, but I’m doing better now.”

Ellerby also was confined to a wheelchair for a time, unable to walk. Gradually, his strength has grown, and he now can walk better on his own two feet.

Since the accident, Ellerby’s mom, Theresa Ellerby, has always been right by his side. She took an extended amount of time off of work the past year and a half to support and care for Ellerby during his recovery. Ellerby said that his mom is the one person that motivates him to keep fighting each day.

“She’s really inspirational for me,” said Ellerby. “She’s really been the best supporter throughout this recovery process.”

Ellerby also appreciates the support he has received from other family members, friends, his church, his therapist, and the Leesville community since the car accident. He has received letters from friends at Chapel Hill and was the guest of honor and official race starter of the third annual Leesville Middle School Fun run earlier this year.

“[The support] has really helped me emotionally,” said Ellerby.

Now a little over a year since his accident, Ellerby’s health continues to improve each day.

He hopes his ability to walk continues to improve so that he can return to class at UNC starting in January of 2018. In the meantime, Ellerby has been taking Wake Tech courses to continue his education. His goal is to graduate college with a degree in economics and work for the Federal Reserve or as an urban planner.

Ellerby’s recovery process has been a long journey and is not over yet, but he is proud of the progress he has already made.

“I’m not the same person as I was this time last year, so I really appreciate it,” said Ellerby.

Overcoming All Obstacles

Ellerby acknowledges that attempting to run across T.W. Alexander Drive was very risky, and he understands the dangers of putting yourself in a potentially hazardous situation.

[Taking risks] can lead you into lots of trouble,” said Ellerby.

However, he hopes that his story can caution people to not take risks similar to the one he took.

“I recommend to everybody who likes to run and take risk not to take a risk like I did—just being honest,” said Ellerby.

From embracing pain as a runner to overcoming pain from the accident, Ellerby’s constant determination has helped him succeed and overcome all obstacles that have come his way.

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