I forget from time to time, but I am an ex-cheerleader!

It has not been that long since I held the pom-pom's close. Even though it really, really does feel like it.

I heard some girls talking trash about cheerleaders the other day. How defensive I got signaled a duty for me. So here I go, setting the record straight about cheer.

That is, cheerleading is totally a sport! I mean, two quick reasons:

1. Cheerleaders don't have cleats to help them with their traction or balance. Even though they do one-legged stunts in the air and multiple tumbling sequences on track.

2. They don't need helmets to brace their faces from limp body parts. Even though they get hit in the face every practice, game, and competition.

Trust me, they sure as hell do not need anyone telling them they're not athletic.

I have come to find that there is a strange sense of pride wrapped up with being a cheerleader. It interestingly follows a stigma to being a cheerleader. But on a real not, it seems like this stigma people develop is based on ignorance.

I was once the most ignorant of them all.

All throughout my life and especially when I was a freshman in high school, I was a soccer player. A pretty serious soccer player, in fact. I played outside of school and for my high school. I loved it.

Cheerleaders were my favorite kind of girls to laugh at. I thought it was ridiculous that while they were trying to be “athletic,” they had lipstick and eyeliner on. I was a dancer in addition to playing soccer, but I knew dance was an art—cheer confused me. As just another student on a huge campus, I did not see what the cheerleaders did during their (what I thought to be very unnecessary) five practices a week. I saw them stand in the sun and cheer on the freshman football boys at their games. Apart from a few appearances at pep rallies, that was really it.

When the debate over whether or not cheer was a sport would come up, my answer was a strong no. It all seemed like one big joke to me.

Until I transferred high schools my junior year.

Ironically enough, the only girls I knew at this new high school (two girls total) were on the cheer team. They pushed me to try out and somehow, I decided I would. By some default, I even ended up making the team. And before I knew it, I was a cheerleader!

Cheer practice was much harder than soccer had ever been for me. Soccer had become natural, I ran a few laps, did some conditioning, did some drills and played a scrimmage. But cheer? On day one I learned the proper technique to LIFT a girl, i.e with my arms fully extended, above my head. On day two I tried flipping backward (did not happen). And day three... well, day three I couldn't feel any of my ligaments.

Cheer worked muscles I did not know existed.

In addition to the physical strain, the emphasis on teamwork in cheer is unlike anything I had yet to experience. On an all-girl team, under every stunt, there are three girls, plus a flyer. Every single one of these girls has to work together fluidly to protect the safety of the flyer and the bases under her. Not to mention, to make the stunt hit consistently. Cheerleaders work for hours to hit tricks that seem to give some people heart attacks (including myself in the beginning).

Most cheerleaders support their football and basketball teams during the fall and winter, but as spring approaches it becomes competition season.

Competitive cheerleading is NO joke. All these flips, stunts and jumps are put to the test on a much grander scale. Cheerleaders take their talents all the way to an international level. Every second of the usually three-minute routine matters, and when it's done, so are you.

Cheerleaders do not lift weights, they lift humans.

Cheerleaders do not use a ball. It would get in the way of their tumbling.

Cheerleaders do not run for cardio. They jump and hit the splits in the air.

The stigma wrapped around cheerleading is a misconception.

The pride, however, is earned.

The next time you try to say cheer isn't a sport, please check again.