I am 34 and I have a hobby. Well, some might say an obsession: I am a cheerleader. I do not have pom poms or cleavage. I am not one of the cool girls in school. My team does not cheer for a football team and no this is notBring it on. I am a long time out of high school. I am an athlete and I am strong, fit and, I like to think, a little brave. I train hard for this sport and feel degraded when someone assumes I am the “cheerleader” stereotype. Cheerleading is a legitimate sport.
My aim of this blog is to describe to the non-cheerleader what is so great about my sport, and I’m not really sure I can put it into words but here goes:
In my team there are around 9 males and 12 females who are all adults from various backgrounds. Some are still at university, studying a range of subjects from electronic animation to teaching. Others are business owners, nurses or actors (well I am). I train twice a week with my team for 3 hours at a time. On top of this I train another two times in adult gymnastics classes, once a week in pilates and a few times a week in partner stunting (me and one base). On a weekly basis I am training five to six times. My current team performs at level 6, which is the highest competitive level. It was always a dream for me to get to such a high level, but as always when you achieve a goal the next goal is already on the horizon, so next it’s World Championships, and the harder skills in level 6. On my team it’s fairly competitive to be a flyer as there are less positions available and stunts tend to go to the most flexible on the team, which I am not…yet.
I started the sport quite randomly. I was working at an RMIT University Orientation day and someone looking to recruit spotted me. I am tiny, skinny and short; basically, the ideal flyer. The world of acrobatics fascinated me and thus, I decided to give it a shot. One competition in I knew that cheerleading was in my blood. That was 5 years ago and if anything I’m far more devoted to my sport now.
Cheerleading, I think, is the epitome of team work. You have to be in tune with all twenty odd team members and you also need to be able to work with every member of your team individually. Each team member has a different feel to the way that they stunt and different timing to their throw. The more you work with someone, the more you understand their timing, but some people are easier than others, and what one flyer or base likes, another will find really hard. Some people just feel easier to communicate with physically.
Learning to tumble (our slang word for gymnastics) is that part that I find the hardest, and most time consuming. I started when I was 29 so I am far behind those who’ve been tumbling since they were 12, but the challenge has been immensely enjoyable and satisfying. I think most people would agree with me when I say that you become more fearful as you grow up and sometimes the mental battle to hurl yourself upside down can be harder than the difficulty of physically learning a skill. The plus side of this is that the bigger the obstacle, the more elation when you get past it. I guess for me Cheerleading gives me a huge sense of achievement on a weekly basis. A few people who are close to me, don’t really understand my obsession and upon reflection I’ve come to this conclusion; when I gain a skill it’s an obvious achievement for me, I feel good about myself. The endorphins get released and I can pat myself on the back for knowing that I worked hard and acquired something new. Not only that but I gained a skill that the average person can’t do. It makes me feel worthwhile; it makes me feel like I’m putting my life to good use, doing something unusual. The consistent, weekly achievement is what becomes addictive and the flipside is when you don’t move forward, the frustration becomes intense. You need that hit, that achievement even more. There always seems to be a period of upward momentum and then a plateau, followed by upward momentum and so on. This sport can leave you jumping to the ceiling with excitement or leave you in a bubbling mess of tears when you seem to be going backwards.
All this training and dedication leads, inevitably, to competitions. There are local comps, seasonal comps, state comps, and of course the annual Australian Nationals. That’s not to mention the prospect of heading off for Worlds in the big ole’ US of A. But believe me, no matter what the comp, they’re a strange affair. There are plenty of skimpy uniforms, big hair, fake tan and bows (that part of the sport hasn’t died). There’s loud music, screaming girls and almost always a few injuries here or there. But, what makes them really special is this amazing support and sportsmanship from other cheerleaders, especially when they see another team execute near perfectly. This is something you don’t often see in other competitive sports and it’s something that I love. We all have an understanding of how much work goes into a routine and are genuinely excited to see people nail it. The blind panic I experience before walking out on the floor is all too familiar for me. I watch my team mates doing any last minute stretches or drills, running to the toilet for that last minute nervous wee, or grabbing a drink of water to get rid of their dry mouth and then it’s go time. I hear the crowd screaming for us and it sends shivers down my spine as we walk onto that floor to give it everything we’ve got. Despite it all your preparation, you never know how the two and a half minutes will turn out. You either walk off the floor broken hearted knowing that you could have done so much better or stupidly euphoric knowing that all that hard work paid off. And the team bond is the strongest it ever gets. And it’s that moment that keeps us coming back for more.
To see our team routine at the Aascf Allstar Victorian Battle championships click: SCC IO6 Allstar battle