Makenzie Ellsworth is a paraplegic, but that only describes one aspect of who she is at age 29.
Ellsworth, who was injured in an automobile accident when she was 15, is also a wheelchair tennis player and an avid Cross Fit participant.
Simply put, Ellsworth is an athlete, one who makes pull-ups look easy.
Ellsworth is also a program coordinator at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, where she is a member of the safety and well-being team.
“I love it,” Ellsworth said of her job. “My team is fantastic.”
Recently, Ellsworth added another description to her personal resume: actress.
Ellsworth is featured in the movie “Making Sense,” which was filmed and produced in Idaho and can be seen on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube Movies and other streaming platforms.
The film – which is the brainchild of Doug Cole, who wrote the story 12 years ago – is intended to be the first independent feature film to represent five elements of disability, played by disabled actors.
“I wanted to bring the script to life, and the goal all along was to help change the perception of people with disabilities in a small way,” Cole said.
Cole and the producers of the film chose to use disabled actors that each represented one of the five primary senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.
Ellsworth heard about Cole and his movie through a mutual friend.
“When I heard about what Doug wanted to do, I just said, ‘Of course. I’m all in,’” Ellsworth said.
Cole said it didn’t take long for him to realize that he had found the perfect person to play Sam – the character lacking touch – in his film.
“Makenzie is actually kind of a natural,” Cole said. “I liked her from the start because she has a lot of spunk. Her character won’t take no for an answer, and that is what Makenzie is like in real life. … She was pretty much a shoo-in for the character, but we did audition for the character, and we had about a dozen people in wheelchairs at the audition. She was head and shoulders above the others, so we chose her for the film.”
Ellsworth said she didn’t have any acting experience prior to the film, but once she decided to be a part of the movie, she worked to become a viable part of the cast.
“I don’t have that long-term goal to be an actress, but I just loved what this movie was going to be about,” she said. “Everyone that was involved in the film was involved for genuine reasons, and that made it fun.”
Cole said Ellsworth more than did her part to add to that air of positivity that surrounded the film-making process.
“She’s incredible,” Cole said. “Her attitude is: ‘I had a car crash when I was 15 years old. It is what it is, and now I’m going to be a positive influence for people from here on out.’
“She’s immensely talented. I know she does a lot of public speaking around nutrition for St. Luke’s, and you can see she just has a lot of poise and charisma. She showed up prepared and she took direction very well.”
The St. Luke’s Health Foundation partially funded the film, and proceeds from the film will go to Includability, Inc., which supports people with disabilities in sports and arts events.
In the end, Cole hopes his story helps create some positivity about people with disabilities – which he said Ellsworth does practically every day.
“When I have a bad day, I think about people like Makenzie, who just look at challenges like they’re speed bumps,” he said. “I think that’s just a great life lesson for people. We get in our heads all the time about trivial things, and people like Makenzie focus on grabbing that brass ring and just going for it.”
Though this will probably be her only acting gig, Ellsworth is proud of the work she put in – and the film’s message.
“It was fun to be able to expose the world to the idea that people with disabilities … we’re definitely not normal, but we’re still pretty cool,” she said.
For more about the film, go to makingsense-film.com.
In her role at St. Luke’s, Makenzie Ellsworth helps people with weight management, and she helps lead the St. Luke’s weight-loss challenge. She also is involved with the Lifestyle Medicine department and helps facilitate Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP), which helps employees and community members achieve their lifestyle goals.
“I have a Master’s in public health, and my whole goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” she said.
Ellsworth said being a paraplegic gives her a unique perspective in her work.
“I could do this job if I hadn’t had my injury, but I think it’s a great role, considering I had my injury,” Ellsworth said. “Because of that experience I realize how important and how powerful our bodies are … because sometimes we just take for granted that ability to walk down a flight of stairs or just getting in and out of our cars.”
Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.