Ozell Williams may be walking at this spring’s graduation ceremony, but he tumbled his way there.
The senior communication major - known around campus and on YouTube for his undeniable acrobatic talent - rarely takes the most conventional path from point A to point B. His journey toward graduation has been similarly full of ups and downs.
“It’s like being through a storm and still being alive to tell everyone about it,” Williams said.
Before making his way to Boulder, Williams grew up in Chicago, where he began doing flips on his mother’s couch and on old mattresses left in alleys. This led him into some trouble, but it also helped him meet a mentor, referred to by Williams as Ms. Jackson, who pushed him to take tumbling seriously.
“I got into an altercation where some girls were throwing rocks at me and I thought I was flirtin’, so I started throwing some back,” Williams said during his recent talk at TedXCU. “I ended up throwing rocks and breaking the mom’s window.”
Repayment was required, but not in the usual manner. “She did something positive and gave me a shot to give back through being on her tumbling program as well as being on her soccer team.”
This experience inspired Williams to pay Ms. Jackson’s good deed forward, using his tumbling abilities to push himself in a positive direction while working to inspire and encourage others in the community.
Williams made his way to CU Boulder in 2010, and his tumbling became a highlight for fans at basketball and football games. The following year, he founded Mile High Tumblers 5280, where he coaches young athletes while offering mentorship programs and opportunities for kids from low-income families.
At the same time, Williams pursued a bachelor’s degree in communication. The skills he learned as a communication major helped him in his professional pursuit to spread a positive message for young athletes, as well as in his everyday life, he said.
“Comms teaches you a lot,” Williams said. “It teaches you the approaches, but also how to look deeper within a conversation, and look deeper within materialistic things, and how to look deeper in your interactions.”
During his time at CU, Williams amassed a long list of achievements, both as an athlete, a student and a community member.
“I’ve been travelin’ doing stuff with the Nuggets, being a part of the amazing spirit program here,” he said. “I’ve been on America’s Got Talent since I’ve been here, as well as I broke the record for the most number of back handsprings, so I’m a Guinness Book of World Record holder.”
Williams broke the record during halftime at a CU football game in 2013, tumbling from end zone to end zone in freezing weather on Folsom Field.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I had my family behind me, see, my entire CU family behind me.”
After graduation, Williams will continue his mission to help young athletes at Mile High Tumblers 5280, while also taking on a new role as the head cheer coach at East High School in Denver.
He hopes to leave behind a legacy at CU that will inspire future students and athletes show them that dedication gets them to what they’re passionate about.
“I wanted to be able to do something and leave a mark,” he said.