Two months ago, my daughter broke two of her fingers. For most people that’s a painful inconvenience. As a cheerleader, it was as devastating as it was painful. To give you an understanding of this, I have to give you a little bit of cheerleading 101.
Cheerleading isn’t what it used to be. Have you ever seen the movie Bring it On starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union? If you have then you should know competitive cheerleading is accurately depicted in that movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should because it’s cute! Today’s cheerleaders don’t just stand there and yell out some cheers while doing a few arm movements. They dance, they jump, they kick, they do stunts that require some of them to be balanced in the air by others and they do often complicated tumbling passes with names like round off back hand spring step out. And they do all of these things as a united team with one goal in mind; to win a National championship title.
When she first started competing three years ago, my daughter couldn’t even turn a cartwheel. Now, she’s one of those girls doing round off back handsprings. It was during a competition in January while doing a back handspring that she landed wrong and broke two fingers. This wasn’t just any competition either. It was the competition in which they were attempting to qualify for the right to compete at Nationals which would take place at the end of March in Anaheim California.
Despite this fall my daughter took, the team ended up qualifying. Whether or not she would be physically able to participate was questionable. Initially, the doctor was optimistic that, because of her age, she could make a full recovery in just three weeks. That wasn’t the case. It took nearly eight weeks and multiple physical therapy sessions for her to recover. While we waited for her to recover, she went to every practice and participated to the best of her ability and constantly hounded me and her coaches to let her tumble and do her stunts before the doctor felt she was ready. Of course we all said no, but she was determined to cheer again and even more determined to make it to Nationals.
She was cleared to compete just one week prior to the date Nationals was scheduled. With so little time to spare before the competition, she wasn’t able to return to do the four tumbling passes she’d been doing prior to the injury. Instead, she had one pass at the beginning of the routine, the first one actually, and it put her front and center. She would be setting the tone for the rest of the routine and I was as nervous about that as I was about watching her compete for the first time after an injury.
On March 28th, we loaded up the family and headed down to Anaheim to vie for the National title in the large varsity novice division. The squad was supposed to compete that night against ten other teams. Of the eleven teams competing, only the top four would move to the finals. I say they were supposed to compete, but Mother Nature had other plans. Just half an hour before the team was supposed to take the stage, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck, forcing the rescheduling of the rest of the competition to the next day.
On March 29th, we headed back to the Anaheim Convention Center after spending a few hours at Disneyland that we followed with a long nap. This time, nothing kept the girls from competing. At the conclusion of the competition, the qualifying teams were announced in no particular order. When it came time to announce the qualifiers in our division, all of us held our breaths. After three other teams were announced ahead of ours, things were looking marginally hopeful. Our name was the last called and athletes and parents alike brought down the house with our cheers of joy. The scores and placement of the teams wasn’t announced, but we were told that the following day we would compete in reverse order of our finish from the qualifying round. In other words, if we were in first place at the end of the first round, we’d compete last in the second round. After getting the score sheet, the coach didn’t want to tell us where we’d qualified. He would only say the scores were close.
Sunday, March 30th, we made one final trip to the Anaheim Convention Center for the last round of the last competition of the season. The first thing many of us parents did was run to the posted scheduled to see our performance order. On seeing we would compete last, I was elated, as were those parents around me. We were standing in first place. All we had to do was hold on.
When the girls took the floor for that final routine, I might have been as nervous as they were, but I watched my daughter with pride. For the second day in a row, she hit her opening tumbling pass and all of the stunts and jumps.
At the awards ceremony a few hours later, my nerves were even more frazzled as I waited to hear whether or not they’d hung on to win. As division after division was called, and we still weren’t among them, I became even more anxious. By the time our division was called to the floor, I’d bitten all of my fingernails to the nub and was jostling my legs up and down and probably driving those around me nuts. I felt confident we’d gotten at least second place. Of the four teams, I thought it came down to us and a team called Arlington. Placements were announced in reverse order and we weren’t fourth or third. The last two teams standing were us and Arlington. When the other team was announced in second place, and I knew we’d won, I could barely stay in my seat to wait for the official announcement. As that announcement was being made, I shot down the bleachers, screaming all the way, with my husband and older daughter in tow and doing the same.
My cheerleader was all smiles as the team hugged and cried and posed for pictures with their trophy and banner, gold medals strung around their necks. As I watched, I reflected on the last few months. After everything my child had gone through to get to that point, I wanted that title for her as much as she did. To see her dream come true, to see the lows she’d gone through to earn it suddenly pay off, made me happier than this writer can describe. It also made me realize there might be a lesson in there for me.
At one point in the season, we thought my daughter might be done. We didn’t think she would make it Nationals beyond the role of spectator. Despite what I thought, my daughter never thought she wouldn’t be there. In her mind, there was no question she’d get there and when she did, she would play to win. Even when the odds were stacked against her, she believed she could do it. She never stopped wanting and she never gave up and it paid off.
Who would have thought a fourteen year old cheerleader could teach me a lesson in how to persevere in your dreams?