On Saturday, I skipped a weekend training walk. Instead, I sat on the bleachers in a local gym for about 6 hours watching cheerleaders cheer. Seriously. My daughter is a cheerleader and her team was participating in the Western Mass Invitational Tournament. It was held in a high school gym that was packed with more shades of school spirit than I have ever experienced.
Let me be perfectly clear about something: I was never a cheerleader. I actually avoided being present at events at which there were cheerleaders. And when my daughter announced that she wanted to become a cheerleader, I was startled. I’m a bit of a feminist. I didn’t shave my legs in high school and I was politically active before I could even vote. And I didn’t have any friends who were cheerleaders. They were too cool and I was too…not. Based on my experience of cheerleaders in high school and my perception of who/what they are culturally, I was shaken that my daughter wanted to be “one of them”. My perception was that cheerleaders were ditzy, mean-girls, who walked through their lives worrying about how to be popular, and not about much else. This didn’t jive with my understanding of my very bright, academically elite, sweet and friendly daughter. It worried me that this was what she wanted to become. But when your child wants to do something in her life, you support her. At least that’s the way I live my life. And she wanted to be a cheerleader, so I put my heart into supporting her as a cheerleader.
I have now sat through more school events in the past 4 years than I had in my entire life leading up to this point. Over time, I have learned a great deal about cheerleaders. Some of them are ditzy, but more of them are really smart and care a lot about their grades. Some of them are mean girls, but more of them are very sweet and thoughtful. Some of them care a lot about being popular, but more of them are just average kids with some very good friends.
And each of them, every cheerleader I have seen, is a true athlete, who works very hard, and is dedicated to cheering on and up the people she (or he) interacts with.
I had a real revelation yesterday watching the cheerleaders at the Regional Competition. I was sitting in the bleachers, experiencing a sense of pride reflecting on how hard our school’s team had worked to get ready for this. I was watching all the teams of girls (and a few boys) cheering their loudest for one another, and I was thinking about how far I had come in my own understanding of what it means to be a cheerleader. And then it dawned on me that I actually had come to love and understand cheerleaders years before my daughter had ever decided to become one.
I really started to love cheerleaders on my first 3Day Walk for Breast Cancer. Cheering is a crucial aspect to The3Day Walk. On every corner is another smiling face waiting to cheer the walkers forward. There are groups of families who spend the whole weekend stalking the walkers, seeking opportunities to thank them (us) for walking. Cheerleaders on the walk come in all genders, all shapes, and all sizes. There are loud cheerleaders chasing the walkers with shouts of praise and heartwarming chants. There are quiet cheerleaders who silently stand their ground and let the sign they hold say it all with words like “Thank you for walking with love from a 10-year survivor.” There are friendly cheerleaders who engage walkers in chat to help pass a difficult hill. There are old cheerleaders and young ones. The important thing is that every step of those 3 Days, there are people poised to cheer the walkers on.
Even though I had trained very hard for my first walk, I had a difficult time with knee pain. On the second day, I walked through miles of excruciating pain on an intensely swollen knee. Each time that I thought I might be close to giving up, there would be another cheerleader with kind words expressing their faith in me. Those cheerleaders gave me strength and kept me going.
Here’s the important thing I have realized about cheerleaders:
When you are in pain or fearful that you are not going to do something as well as you hope, you really deserve to have someone cheering for you. We all do, whether we are walking 60 miles, playing basketball or just trying to do our best at school or jobs. A little “woo-hoo” really goes a long way.