I can already fill that this is gonna be long, so grab a coffee or tea, turn on some low music and get cozy!
The reason behind all of this is because in about 2 months there will be 100+ girls at my old high school, getting ready for cheerleading/pep squad tryouts. My little sister is one of them. So leading up to tryouts, she and I will be trying to get her back into top form and teach her some tumbling, to make her competitive against the other returning girls.
My story about cheerleading probably isn’t like most people, those who grew up doing it at a gym or through a city program. Even when the high school cheerleaders came to my middle school to talk about joining and tryout season, all I remember thinking then was…seems nice.
And so I went about my freshmen year, I joined the badminton team and a couple clubs, but not too many things since I was still doing gymnastics…or well on my way to retire from gymnastics at this point. But it wasn’t until the third quarter of school when we started our tumbling and dance section in P.E. that things started changing. At the time my P.E. teacher was the director of the pep squad for our school (but I had no idea…because I wasn’t really interested in pep squad). And so we started learning how to do forward rolls, backward rolls, and everyone attempted to do cartwheels. It wasn’t until my friend from middle school came up to me and was like…isn’t this like your thing? Your a gymnast right? And then as most high schoolers, they start talking and talk spreads and before I know it I get approval from the teacher and I’m showing them an old floor routine without any music.
After that spectacle, I got asked to come to the locker room office after I changed out of my P.E. clothes, and there I see my P.E. teacher and two other women. At first I thought I was in trouble because maybe doing a floor routine at school isn’t the safest thing, and I didn’t know if the P.E. teacher was fully informed with what I could do, it wasn’t until later when I heard that someone just told her that there is a girl that can tumble and she’s gonna show us some stuff. To make this long story a little shorter and carry on, I was asked to come try out for the Pepsquad Yell Team. For those that don’t know, Yell (what you see on TV, girls that stunt, tumble, and cheer) and Song (those that use pompoms, wear Jazz shoes, and are really good dancers) are both under the umbrella of Pepsquad along with mascot. I went home that day and told my parents, and they weren’t too thrilled because cheerleading is dangerous and they knew that I was pretty injured already from years of gymnastics. And so I went to school the next week and told my P.E. teacher that I couldn’t make it tryouts because it was badminton season and I had games or practice that I had to attend.
Sometime during this, my mom talked to some friends who had daughters on the pep squad team and I guess found that it was safe…or seemed okay, so when I brought it up at dinner, they said it could try it if I really wanted to. But of course, it had already been 2 weeks into the try out season and the girls there had already had 2 weeks of learning the tryout routine. I remember telling my P.E. teacher that my parents said it was okay, but it was probably too late…but I guess they were desperate to have someone to tumble on the team and so the next day after my badminton game off campus, I came back and met two seniors who performed the routine while I recorded it on my camera, and then went home. Because of my badminton schedule, I couldn’t make any of the tries out practices, so with the recording of the girl and the music I taught myself the routine for 2 weeks.
Showing up to the tryouts was so awkward! I literally knew no one there because the girls I did know already had their turn and left, and because I couldn’t come until after a game I was part of the last bracket. With my number pinned to my white shirt, I walked into the room with another girl and faced the panel of judges. I have never been to any sort of tryouts before, so when the process started I started to realize that it was every girl for themselves. 2 weeks later when the results were posted, I looked on the Junior Varsity sheet and didn’t see my name, so I thought oh..maybe I didn’t do the routine right? It wasn’t until lunchtime when my friends came up to me and were congratulating me, and I had no idea why until they asked if I’ve seen the team list, and I said yea my name wasn’t on it…that was because my name was on the Varsity list…
I didn’t know too much about high school teams…but usually, incoming sophomores don’t go to Varsity…they can’t even try out for Varsity until they are incoming juniors…so I was really confused. Fortunately, the returning Varsity girls were really nice (it wasn’t like what I’ve seen on TV where they are all crazy…) and they had pulled up some other girls my grade to see if they would fit with us because the Varsity team was kind of on the small side. After training and keeping the girls they pulled from JV we had a full team of 12 with one alternate.
For the next three years of high school, cheer became my life. The void from gymnastics retirement was filled with my new family from cheer, and with that, we started setting school and city records. The main reason why our Yell team never made it past the first round of Nationals, was because they never had someone who could tumble. Once I joined and started teaching some of my teammates the basics, by our first Nationals my captain and I tumbled into the routine and crazily made it to the final round. And then even crazier…we won. The video of us when we realized that we won will forever be in my mind. Even when I rewatch the video, there are so many emotions that hit me all at once and then I just start crying. Something that I will never forget is my coach telling us…the judges don’t know your story, they don’t know your pain, all they see is you on the mats for 2 min and 30 seconds and that’s when you put on the show. The judges didn’t know that the night before round one, emotions got to the best of us and a teammate almost threw herself out the window, they didn’t know that as a team we seemed strong but apart some of us were so broken that they couldn’t eat.
The road to our first Nationals was a struggle. I believe that if it wasn’t for the 2 seniors on our team and taking on the Mom and Big sister roles they did, we wouldn’t have made it all the way. Together we shared our lives and struggles, coming to practice became a safe place to some girls, once we stepped through the practice doors we would leave our life behind for just 3 hours and focus on each other. Those 2 seniors will show everyone else that our school doesn’t just have a Nationally ranked Song team, but that their Yell team could hold their own too, that was the driving force for our team, and our motto…Believe, just believe.
I ended my career as a cheerleader with 3 National titles (2 first place, 1 second place), 3 invites to perform in London for their New Year’s parade, many team spirit awards, and 3 spirit sticks from cheer camp. What you see on TV about spirit sticks is real! Or as real as you want to believe it, but it probably just comes with the fun of being at cheer camp with all the other teams. Joining the team changed me a lot as a person. It showed me loyalty, passion, leadership, and how to project your voice across a football field. Before joining, I have only done individual sports. For gymnastics, there is a team, but when you compete it’s just you against the judges. If you mess up, there is only yourself to blame, but with Yell, its a team event, even if I do my best and want to win, my passion can only go so far. Everyone on the team needs to want it as badly as the next girl, only then will you perform as one. For the first year, the will to win for our 2 seniors drove the team to work hard, but once they left the 2nd year was a slight struggle, with the addition of new girls into our already tight-knit family, girls and their emotions with a big mouth, feelings were bound to get hurt, but it was probably because we weren’t on the same page anymore. The younger girls didn’t understand what we had to go through to get a National title. All they saw was the National title and they wanted in.
Senior year was definitely the hardest year. Our coach decided that after winning first place twice, we should try out luck on the next level and compete in the intermediate division. With a new division meant bigger stunts, bigger tumbling passes…and bigger falls and injuries. Ice packs, athletic tape, and bio-freeze was common at practice along with our usual braces. As I was returning from a back injury (maybe I’ll talk about that in another post…its a long story) some days I looked like Ironman at practice, with two of ever brace, ankle, knee, wrist and my back all wrapped up for safety. That year we surprising got a bid to Nationals and made it to the final round. We took home second, and I cried. Cried because we got second and not first, cried because this was my last competition as a cheerleader on this team, and cried because I couldn’t even believe we made it this far. The super competitor in me was sad/mad that we didn’t get first, with my belief of go big or go home, and rewatching our routine, all I could do was pick out all the things done wrong, girls who were slightly off time, those that didn’t do all their jumps full out, and some that didn’t even get to their place in time for the dance. It took me a couple hours to calm down and relook at the routine, and realize how far we have come as a team. And this being our first time in a new level and we got second, that was something to be happy about. But I guess me with my personality as a perfectionist and someone that gives 200% to anything she really wants, other people’s 100% just didn’t cut it sometimes and I had to be okay with that. It was already over and we did well, not perfect, but good. Being in Yell taught me this life lesson. You can be practice all you want alone and be great, but a team is only as strong as the weakest person, so sometimes you need to reach out and help them along. So thinking back to practices, I kept thinking, if only I went over and helped that girl with the counts to get in place on time or condition the new girls better to have stronger stamina, we could have gotten better results. And because of this, now when I see someone struggling with something that I can help with, I go and help them, or if not find them someone that can help them. Life in high school is hard, going to a high school like mine…probably even harder, and add on that the pressure to get into a good college or even better trying to find yourself in all of this, kids in high school need all the help they can get to survive.
Which is why I always tell my little sister, go join a club, apply for student government, attend dances. High school is the only time you can really go out and kind of waste time exploring and find yourself, find something you might be passionate about. Because before you know it, college comes and goes and all people ask you is…do you have a job…when are you getting married? I always tell people that middle school was the best time of my life so far, but if I think back high school was the time where my character started developing and college was the time where I refined what I built. Now that I’m done with college, I often think back to high school and think, would I be where I am now if I didn’t join Yell that year? Probably not, I probably wouldn’t have gotten injured like I did, which led to sessions of Physical Therapy, which led to my passion to help heal the injured, which is why I majored in Kinesiology to maybe go become a Physical Therapist myself or an Exercise specialist to make sure athletes don’t hurt themselves during practice. Which meant I probably wouldn’t have moved to Sacramento, CA for college because that was the only place where my major wasn’t impacted, and I wouldn’t have met my best friends/roommates.
That’s a lot of thinking, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit and look back on things that have happened and helped form who you are. Most of who I became is due to the friendships I’ve had in the past. I had fun writing this…past me? Because it will give some insight as to who I am and where I started from. It also gives me a space to let out my thoughts and see if others have similar experiences as mine. I feel that now that I’m slightly older, reflecting is something I do often because life is a ticking time clock and as someone’s dad said, your biological clock is ticking!
Every day, Lai day! I’m thinking of posting some ‘daily me’ post so you can get to know me better! Have a great Mother’s Day weekend!