This past weekend was my last weekend ever as a cheerleader. Here's how I let go of a part of my heart.
When I was a 5-year-old little girl, I was an Eagles game with my mom. I saw the cheerleaders and I immediately told my mom that I wanted to be just like them.
That's how it all started. That was the driving force for my first ever passion.
I've been a cheerleader since I was in first grade. I started off with Steelers Cheerleading for my first two years. We weren't very successful at competitions, but I was just glad I got to dress up in a uniform and call myself a cheerleader. In the third grade, my mom and I wanted a change. We moved to Hanover Starz Cheerleading and I've been with them ever since. Hanover Starz became my home away from home.
I started off with Hanover Starz Comets. That was the year I tried to learn to tumble and was successful. I learned how to do a back walkover and even got to compete with it. I've never felt that kind of thrill in my life, I learned at that age that I absolutely love tumbling, and I would stick with this team for as long as I can.
As I started fourth grade, I was moved up to Hanover Starz Twinkles. Both fourth and fifth-grade year were spent on that team. That transition was when I started taking cheer more seriously. I remember I would post everywhere about being a cheerleader and treat it as if it was the only thing in my life. My fourth-grade year I learned how to do a front walkover. My fifth-grade year, Coach Meghan spotted me for back handsprings. Also, due to how tall I was becoming, I became a back instead of a base. That stuck with me till the end.
In sixth grade, I was apart of Hanover Starz Starlites. This year I was overjoyed to be on this team because our uniforms completely changed, and I remember being so excited to be in a 'big girl' uniform. This year was the year I got my back handspring thanks to Coach Meghan and encouragement from my teammate Riley. This year felt like a turning point for me when it came to cheering. I felt like I was getting better, and not just cheering to brag. The mindset I had when I was younger was that I could brag about doing it, but through this year I matured and grew with the sport.
Seventh and eighth grade were my final years competing at the type of competitions I was used to. I was apart of the Team Hanover Starz Galaxy. My back handsprings improved this year, as did my flexibility. These years I also grew way more. My eighth-grade year I started getting spotted for my back tuck. These two years I also decided to cheer for my middle school's cheerleading team. Cheerleading was my entire middle school years and took over my life. I knew at this age that I'd want to continue and grow more in high school.
My freshman year was the year Hanover Starz added the team called Cosmic Rayz. Coach Meghan, who I grew up with, said she was inspired by the 2019 graduating class cheerleaders. She gave us a home for our high school years, and eight of us stuck till the end. This team was a starting experiment. Coach Meghan tried different things out and learned about the whole process. I'm so grateful to her that she was willing to learn with this team. She's also the reason why I got my back tuck this season. I never got to compete with it, but I was able to do it on a dead mat and my high school's track.
I also was apart of my school's JV high school team during my freshman year. The coaches were the sternest coaches I've ever had, and I learned how to be cleaner with everything I did. I continued with them only until my sophomore year, but I am grateful for all I learned from high school sideline cheerleading.
My sophomore year was the year I was set to compete with my back tuck on Cosmic Rayz. I practiced with it and perfected it. Everything was great until a week before our first competition. During the last 10 minutes of practice, I freaked out while going into my back tuck and landed out my elbow. Luckily my mom was close by and she rushed me to the hospital. I found out I broke my elbow. A few of my bone fragments broke and I twisted the nerve going into my pinkie. I had surgery and wasn't able to compete for the majority of the season. Even though that massively messed with my season, my teammates still were always there for me, as well as my coaches. I attended every practice and competition and was able to compete at nationals with my elbow brace. That year was definitely a learning experience for me. I never had to sit out before due to an injury, and I learned just how important cheerleading was to me when I couldn't be on the mat with my team.
I remember thinking when I broke my elbow that I wouldn't be able to tumble anymore. For evaluations, I remember how painful it was to back because pulling up was too much on my elbow. After growing through physical therapy, I built up the courage to do back handsprings again, and backing was easier. Our uniforms were upgraded this year and I grew close to new teammates. This year was definitely an unforgettable one.
Senior year came quicker then I could've ever imagined. This team has gone through so many ups and downs, and we've all learned how to grow from them. Despite this being one of the hardest years of my life, I found comfort in my team. I could thank them all every single year to come for all they've done for me and it still wouldn't be enough. The season passed by quicker then I could've ever imagined. Everyone was sobbing at our last practice and competition. Coach Meghan even helped me try and get over my fear of back tucks for my last competition. I managed to do it a few times by myself at practice, which I could've never done without her help. I didn't get to compete with it due to lingering fear, but I was helped pushed out of my comfort zone and encouraged by so many.
I have decided not to continue my journey with this sport in college because I chose to grow with tennis. It's been hard to come to terms with, but I've learned to accept it. From the beginning to the end, my passion was always there. Even from the lowest points, I was never discouraged to continue. Cheering has been such an amazing growing experience. I found things out about myself I didn't even know I had in me. I learned how to do new things, and become a more positive person.
I have let go of my second home, but it always holds a special place in my heart. Thank you, Hanover Starz. Love you forever.