I think, maybe, every little girl dreams of becoming a cheerleader. The uniform is cute… you get to hang out with the jocks. For me, it was about getting the crowd excited and the athleticism that always seems to go unnoticed. From about the age of 10, I wanted to be a cheerleader. From 6th grade through High School, I tried out every. single. year. I never made a squad. One memory that always stuck with me was try outs my freshman year of High School. We broke off into smaller groups to rehearse the dance routine. The Senior Captain looked at me and said “You’re REALLY good. You weren’t off once.” I thought I had it in the bag. NOPE! Let’s face it, with a sport like that, it’s a popularity contest. Girls would kiss the coaches asses for weeks prior… but not me. I wanted my ability to shine, even back then.

While I was always a little pudgy, I did gain some weight at college. The freshman 15 is real, people! I found out that SCAD had a cheerleading squad and I got excited. Mind you, SCAD is a private arts college… so I was also a little confused because they don’t have a football team, but regardless, I was still excited. I showed up to tryouts, jumped, cheered, flipped and danced my ass off. And again… NO DICE. BUT… the coach came up to me and said “Hey, we really liked you. Work on your tumbling and jumps and come back next year.” Finally, some constructive criticism that I could run with. That summer, I hit the local gymnastics academy. My jumps got higher and I even got a spotted backhand spring under my belt. My sophomore year, I hit tryouts again. This time, I made it. Also, let me add that I scored a 10-10 on the dance routine. It was always my strong suit.

The first bump in the road and hit to my self-esteem was getting fitted for the uniform. I may have been overweight, but I wasn’t at my biggest…. nor did I feel that big, but in a room of my peers… “She needs the largest skirt” was shouted across the room to my coach. I was mortified.

As good as it felt to be at the games, cheering and performing for crowds, when I was at practice, I was miserable. The coach started weekly weigh-ins, and while I was great to see my new active lifestyle was helping me slim down, I was completely uncomfortable having to do this in front of the squad. At one particularly bad practice — which left me crying in the bathroom– my coach actually grabbed my side while I was in a heel stretch and then whispered that I had to stay and run laps after practice. I get it. We’re on an athletic team and we should all be at a certain level of athleticism, but seriously? Maybe he didn’t realize how damaging his words and actions were, but they were killing my spirits and what is a cheerleader without good spirits?

I don’t think it’s an uncommon thing for cheerleaders to have eating disorders. There was a girl on our squad that was recovering–we’ll call her Ashely. We all knew it killed her inside that she was no longer a flier. She always looked so enviously of the girls being tossed into the air. After we had a group of guys join the squad, our stunting got taken to another level. One night we were all screwing around with stunts. The guys were putting us up in liberties and such… nothing crazy, but It was cool to see how it felt to be a flier. Ashley asked them if they could do a basket toss with her. They obliged. Our coach quickly came over and said “I suggest you stop before you hurt yourselves.” To this day, I can’t believe he said that, especially in front of a girl that was recovering from an eating disorder.

I wound up only cheering for a season. If it wasn’t me, someone was crying at every practice. It wasn’t a good atmosphere. It stopped being fun rather quickly. I was reminded of all these feelings this past week when Facebook posted a throwback photo of me with the squad. I smiled at first and then giggled, “Jesus, I hated that year so much.”

Sometimes we work so hard for something and then it doesn’t quite meet our expectations. But, hey… I was persistent in my pursuit and the moral of this story is, you can do whatever you put your mind to, just make sure that when you achieve it, it’s what you really want.

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