Elizabeth Jillson Recognized At NCAA Woman Of The Year Ceremony

Nov. 6, 2003

The NCAA held its annual Woman of the Year awards ceremony in Indianapolis last weekend, and Oregon State's All-American gymnast Elizabeth Jillson was there to represent the state of Oregon. Each year, the program honors one senior female student-athlete from each of the 50 states based on athletics, academics and leadership, and Elizabeth was selected as the 2003 Woman of the Year for the state of Oregon. As a junior in 2002, she earned first team All-American honors on bars. As a senior in 2003, she scored a perfect 10 on bars at the Pacific-10 Championships to cap off a stellar career with a conference championship. She was named an NACGC/W Scholastic All-American as a senior, and she was involved in OSU's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for four years.

While in Indianapolis, Elizabeth had the chance to get to know athletes from across the country and from a variety of sports, and she had the opportunity to work with children from the Indianapolis area. Below, she discusses her weekend and the honor she had in representing Oregon State University and the state of Oregon at the prestigious event.

This past weekend, I was given the honor of representing the state of Oregon at the NCAA Woman of the Year awards dinner in Indianapolis. At first, I was really nervous to meet all of the other athletes because after reading their bios, I was really intimidated because I felt like I didn't fit in.

When I first arrived there, we did some icebreaker activities. We played bingo, where we had to have the other athletes sign the square that described themselves. As I was reading the squares, I learned that there was a national champion in fencing and a woman who was an All-American in three different sports. Reading the tidbits of information made me realize that everyone in the room was amazing. They were all the 'Ultimate Athlete.' They have accomplished so much in four years, and I felt honored to get to meet all of them.

As I got to know everyone, I started to feel more comfortable. The girls were all extremely nice, and I felt like I was back home with my teammates.

The first night, we had dinner at the NCAA Hall of Champions. It was amazing, and I found that it was really inspirational. It had all the names of the past Woman of the Year recipients and any other major award that is given out by the NCAA. At the museum, every sport was shown on display with pictures and information about the sport. One thing I truly enjoyed about the display was that the pictures they chose had no names on them, so there was no focus on one athlete.

On Saturday, we went to the University of Indianapolis to help out with the Sports Spectacular, which was an opportunity for area children to work with the Women of the Year and to try other sports. It was free for the kids, and the activities included life skills, conditioning, softball, soccer, basketball and volleyball. I was a group leader, so I took a group of kids around to the different stations. The kids were great. They all got a free t-shirt and pizza, and some of the kids asked for our autographs too.

Later that day, we had rehearsals for the dinner. When I arrived at the rehearsal, I realized how big of a deal this award is. The ballroom looked amazing. The stage had blue rectangles in the background and two podiums. The tables were set up for a formal dinner placement.

At the center of the table was the award that you receive for Woman of the Year. It's huge. It's about a foot tall and had your name and school on it. It is the coolest thing I have ever received.

The rehearsals were a lot of fun. Robin Roberts from Good Morning America was there to announce the honorees. She was really funny and made the rehearsals go by fast. After the rehearsal, the NCAA provided professional makeup artists to do our makeup, and the women did an awesome job. Everyone was really excited and nervous to walk onto the stage. Everyone was afraid of tripping.

When it came time for dinner, my mother and I went into the ballroom. They had hors d'oeuvres and ice sculptures everywhere. The ice sculptures had the NCAA logo and said Woman of the Year inside it. Everyone looked really nice and professional. I was extremely happy that Dick (assistant coach Dick Foxal) got to come to the dinner with me. Also at my table was my host, who went to the University of Oregon (It's OK - I told him he had to be a Beaver for the night to sit at my table!). The dinner was extravagant food, and the dessert was also great too.

After dinner, the awards ceremony started. All of the athletes went to the Green Room to get ready. They had a TV in there so we could see everyone being announced and see what was being played on the screen. Then somebody told me this was being televised. That's when I got really nervous. It was really amazing to walk into the ballroom and have everyone looking at you. Once I got on stage, I shook Robin's hand and sat in my seat on the stage. I had a good view of everyone in the audience. It was pretty intimidating to have the stage lights beaming in your face and have everyone in the audience staring at you.

There was a standing ovation for all the women once we were all on stage. Then they announced the winner, and she had an amazing speech. She truly deserved her award as Woman of the Year.

At the end of the ceremony, all the honorees were grouped up taking pictures. Parents and photographers swarmed to this side of the stage. We were all joking about when they would finally stop taking pictures. In reality, though, I think none of us wanted it to stop because we knew that it was our last time being recognized as athletes for our institutions. It was my final moment to show my pride, my happiness and my sadness that my gymnastics career and my time representing Oregon State University has come to an end.

This experience has truly enlightened me, and I'm excited for my next path in life. While I was in Indianapolis, I was fortunate to meet the most amazing women in the world, and I believe that all of them are going to accomplish their goals. The best part of all is that I really connected with some of the honorees, and we agreed to keep in touch. I had a blast. This memory will always remain close to my heart.

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