"See Ella is just…a runner. She was born to run." That is how Ella Willis' coach Allan Tellis describes her passion.
Willis wouldn’t disagree with his assessment. "The feeling I get. It’s difficult to explain that. It’s just in me," she says.
With her long list of accomplishments, it would be hard to draw any other conclusion. Ella was born to run; and she was born to run long and fast.
"Ella went on to win a total of four free press marathons and one of the times she set was the fastest for 17 or 18 years. We’re now talking big time marathon. And no one broke that until 2004," says Motor City Striders president Ed Kozloff.
Kozloff was the race director the year Willis first ran what is now the Free Press marathon. She was the first woman to do so.
"Women weren’t officially allowed to run in road races until the mid-1970s," explains Kozloff.
When Willis was younger, she got used to being the only girl in the race. When Willis was allowed to compete with the big guns, she was very hard to stop.
Her race wins are too long to list here, but Tellis believes they merit her a spot in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
"Check the Michigan Hall of Fame…you’ll find out there aren’t too many women in the Michigan Hall of Fame. All you see is men. That’s why she belongs in the Michigan Hall of Fame. The work she’s done…and she’s a woman," says Tellis.
Kozloff calls her a forerunner in her sport and says she paved the way for female runners in Michigan. When it comes to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, she is a little more modest. When asked if she deserves to be inducted, Willis said: "I would’t mind it one bit."