The Truth About Cheerleading: Behind the Smile
Think of every stereotype you can about cheerleaders.
I don’t feel like any of these labels suit my teammates or me. The truth is, cheer has been instrumental in my growth as a person. Like any other sport, it has improved my work ethic and athleticism, but it has been so much more than that.
I sustained physical and emotional trauma in a prior event. After that, I was no longer comfortable with being touched as I once was, and I found it difficult to trust anyone. I was wary of those I didn’t know and felt nervous around new people. I was even anxious around my own girlfriend, fighting to stay grounded in the moment with her. I had to keep my mind from drifting to a scary time.
I had gotten to a point in my recovery where I felt like my progress had plateaued. I decided it was time for a new step in my life. I wasn’t quite sure if I would be comfortable with a challenge, but I was ready to try. Enter cheerleading.
Cheerleading requires a tremendous amount of trust. One of the elements of cheer is called “stunting”, in which a person is either lifted or tossed into the air. The ones doing the lifting and catching are known as “bases,” and the person in the air is known as the “flyer.” Being small and flexible, I was assigned to be a flyer. To put it a bit dramatically, I essentially had to trust my bases with my life each time I was put in the air. I found it hard to trust those closest to me, so how was I going to trust these strangers?
Stunting also came with another challenge. If a flyer falls from a stunt, the bases will catch their flyer by any means necessary (as they should). In a dire situation, bases will grab whatever part of the flyer's body to keep her from touching the ground. This presented a new problem for me. How could I possibly be comfortable with anyone touching me?
I contemplated quitting after the first practice.
“I might as well back out now before they put me into the routine,” I thought to myself. “If I can’t bring myself to stunt, I’m letting the team down.”
But somehow, I returned to practice and every practice after that. I was so afraid of falling, I learned stunts with essentially the entire team spotting me. Each practice I had less people spot me, until I had complete confidence in my bases. Every time I fell, I was caught. I could trust again.
Being in an athletic context helped me to be more comfortable with being touched by other people.
It’s no surprise that this deep level of trust led to incredible friendships. They’re some of the most authentic and meaningful friendships I’ve ever had. Myth debunked: cheerleaders are not shallow.
I was seeing positive changes in my everyday life too. New friendships meant more support, and my relationship with my girlfriend was blossoming beautifully. I was feeling as loved as ever. This progress was creating a beautiful, healing ripple effect.
I am so grateful for my cheer team. They are incredible group of ladies. We don’t have a coach, a choreographer or fancy equipment, but we have passion and each other. There is no more drama than any other sport team out there, just a bit more make up and glitter. Behind the bow, we are an accepting and trusting group with each individual bringing unique talents and unique struggles. I credit cheer with being a crucial part of my recovery. When I put on that big smile during a routine, I mean it.