An Open Letter To Cheerleading (and to parents who are struggling with letting their kid try a new hobby)

I remember my first ever cheer tryouts. I was a shy and awkward 6th grader who worshiped her one and only Hollister shirt because having it meant, in my mind, that I would fit in.

(I wish I could dig up more pics from middle school cheer, 
but I can't so I'll share the pics from my cheer career that I COULD find)
Cheer camp at the Wisconsin Dells with University of Northern Iowa, summer of 2013.

To those of you who know me and my loud mouth now you would be shocked to know that I was kind of shy at this point in my life. It didn’t help that just one year prior I had fallen off the monkey bars at recess and knocked my teeth parallel to the roof of my mouth. There was blood everywhere, including on my favorite pair of jeans. I cried out of concern that I’d have to throw the pants away, never mind the teeth. Naturally, it took some time for those teeth to find their way back from the roof of my mouth into the front of my mouth where they should be, in a smile. On top of that, it was only 6th grade and I was already taller than most guys in school, I also didn’t know how to do my hair yet, I had just learned how to attempt to pluck my eyebrows. Oh, let’s not forget I was right around the corner from getting teenage acne.

I was awkward. I’m not sure what possessed me to try cheerleading. I’m putting my bets on the fact that I had been doing gymnastics for years already, so this was the logical next step.

Anyway, I made the cheerleading squad! The awkward 11 year old girl who was trying to find her voice in the world made the squad! Hellllooo popularity! Or so I thought.

Turns out, cheerleading didn’t end up being this huge quest for popularity that I thought it would be. Sure, in middle school, that is exactly what it was. But as I not only grew older, but also grew in my passion for cheerleading, I grew into someone completely different, with a different mindset.

Cheerleading, you helped me blossom into the fearless, confident, and strong woman that I am today. Not only that, but through it, I learned at a younger age than most, how important it was to be nice to everyone. Does it sound cliche to say that out of all sports, cheerleading, was the one to shape me into the woman I am today? Maybe. But I know damn well that I wouldn’t be where I am today (like physically would not be living where I am), have the relationships i do, hell I probably wouldn’t have the career path I have, if I didn’t make the squat.

And it started in that musty middle school gymnasium, in small town Illinois, on a hot May day back in 2004.

I made the squad Y’ALL!

Now let me time out for a second:

To all the parents out there reading this,

or any hopeful parents-to-be let me tell you my one piece of advice. Its advice coming not from a fellow parent, but from a daughter who is thankful that her parents did this one thing for her.

Let your kids choose their passion and let them love it hard.

It doesn’t matter what sport, hobby, or extra curricular they fall in love with, let them love it. A child learning to be passionate about something all on their own is a really special thing. Because when they get older, and when it comes time to start making decisions about their life, all on their own, it’s their passions that will drive them to those decisions more than anything else.

My parents were both jocks, like they were each amazingly good at their sports. So it made sense that they enrolled both me and my brother in various sports growing up. I played softball for 10 years, up until my sophomore year of college and I was good. I tried volleyball, that was a bust. I consider basketball but couldn’t make a lay up to save my life, so sayonara to basketball.

Had my parents “forced” me to stay in softball when I wanted to quit because of a coach that ruined it all for me, then I would not have finished my high school career, and then my college career with cheerleading. Hell, I would have gone to a different school entirely had I been in the mindset to stay on the track to “play ball at the collegiate level”. My parents were jocks but they let me try, and then excel at cheerleading. And when it was the sport that I fell in love with, they supported me without blinking an eye. They would even drive 3 hours to watch me cheer in high school at a far away football game, in the freezing freaking cold rain. My dad became “Super Fan Dan” as my high school squad got good at competitive cheer, and made it to the state competition finals year after year.

They saw my passion, they saw me fall in love with it, and the supported me SO HARD.

And because of that single passion, I have molded into the person I am today.

You see cheerleading, you were more than just a “oh let’s see if I’ll like this sport”, you changed the trajectory of… ME.

Had I not made the squad, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with cheerleading, and then I wouldn’t have done it in high school.

Had I not done it high school I would have put my attention and efforts into softball.

Had my efforts been in softball, I would have tried to play at the collegiate level.

Had I tried to play at the collegiate level I’m 99% sure I would not have ended up at the University of Northern Iowa.

Had I not ended up at UNI, I wouldn’t have met my best friends.

Had I not met my best friends I wouldn’t have met my husband.

Had I not met my husband, I wouldn’t have my 3 animals. I wouldn’t have moved to North Carolina. I wouldn’t have begun volunteering with Triad Golden Retriever Rescue. I wouldn’t have become an Orangetheory Coach.

I wouldn’t be HERE.

On top of that, I wouldn’t have developed the skills and traits that I have now, that have helped me go for things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

My outgoing nature?

I can thank cheerleading for that. It’s pretty damn hard to be an enthustiatic cheerleader and also be a total introvert. Is it possible? Yep. But that’s not how the cards played for me, and I’m glad. Because with this extroverted and outgoing nature, I have tried SO MANY THINGS that I don’t see introverts around me trying.

Cheering in front of crowds of thousands in college? What a freaking experience.

Walking in two fashion shows? Some would say hello NERVES. I said hello EXPERIENCE.

Being a fitness coach? Try doing that without an outgoing personality feeding into your energy.

My strange comfort in public speaking?

Yep, let’s thank cheerleading for that. I mean cheerleading is public speaking after all, we just change the pitch of our voices

But for real, it’s weird, I actually really like public speaking.

My most looked forward to school events and assignments? Presentations. PowerPoints, etc.

Without my innate ability for public speaking, combined with my extroverted nature, I wouldn’t have been selected in college to be on a team of 3 to go present a topic at the National Convention for Society of Public Health Education- and get second place in the nation!

My ability to be friends with virtually anyone, and my desire to include everyone?

You guessed it. Cheerleading.

Now, let me pause and say that all cheerleading squads I was apart of were not your stereotypical “bitch” squads, like you might have guessed. Because of that, I think my friendly nature that I already had, had a chance to thrive even more.

My excitement about LIFE?

HELL FREAKING YA THIS STEMMED FROM CHEERLEADING!

Learning how to be excited about a turnover, a 3-point swish, a touchdown, an interception, or whatever, and being excited about those time. after. time. instills a deep excitement for everything! I’m proud to say I’m generally a very optimistic and excited person now-a-days.

Once a cheerleader. Always a cheerleader.

Not to mention the friends I made or the connections made because of cheerleading

It’s been like a rollercoaster that keeps picking up speed. It started with cheerleading. Then it was meeting the friends I did, deciding to go to a college because I had heard about it from someone I used to cheer with. Then it was getting to college and deciding to cheer, which introduced me to new people, my husband, etc. The roller coaster kept picking up even after I was done cheering as it led me to becoming a fur-mom, into a new state, into a new career path, and so much more!

Just like any other sport, hobby, etc. Cheerleading put me on this roller coaster of excitement, and even though I’ve been out of cheer for 5 years now, my roller coaster is not. slowing. down.

Some kids might fall in love with football or soccer like you envision them to. And those sports might turn into passions that catapult them into greatness such as playing on scholarship in college, or hell for the amazingly talented and lucky few, going pro. But for other kids, theater, piano, tae-kwan-do, fine arts, or even cheerleading might be what they become so passionate about that it’s impossible to ignore.

So don’t ignore it. Help them in any way you can. But ultimately, let them make their decisions about where they want to go with that passion and what they want to do. Not only are they learning to make decisions on their own, they’re molding themselves into pretty fantastic human beings.

Who would have thought that cheerleading had the capacity to change the trajectory of my life so much?

But it did. It all started in a musty middle school gymnasium, in small town Illinois, on a hot May day back in 2004.

And because of that, from my 26 year old self to my 11 year old self, I thank you cheerleading. And I thank everyone who I came in contact with throughout my time as a cheerleader, and every experience I got out of it.

Thanks for reading!

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Love, Carly

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