Almost 16 years ago I was attending my baby shower for our first child: A soccer girl!
I had already planned out her soccer career and she wasn’t even born yet. I pictured myself coaching her first soccer team, teaching her new skills in the backyard everyday after school, cheering her on, making the varsity team her freshman year in high school and even playing in the Olympics with the best soccer players in the world.
I even purchased a pink soccer ball and had everyone that attended my baby shower sign the ball with inspirational messages to my soccer girl.
Little did I know then, my hopes and dreams of raising the next Mia Hamm would turn into something that I never expected.
Growing up, I was the poster child for tomboys. My daily routine was playing in the mud, worms and challenging the neighborhood kids to every sport I knew of.
Gifted with extreme athletic ability, I excelled in most sports that I played. Sometimes I was even better than the boys. Soccer however had my heart.
There were times that I played on multiple teams at a time and I would consider soccer my best sport. I played on a travelling team ever since I can remember. We had multiple practices a week, lots of traveling to tournaments on weekends and many times we played three games in one day.
I would argue with anyone that "soccer is the toughest sport to play because you don’t get timeouts or breaks and all you wear is shin guards instead of big pads like football players wore."
I was soon going to find out that soccer is not the toughest sport in the world. That title would go to competitive cheer.
When my daughter was five years old, I realized she had a skill that made me start to rethink my soccer girl plans. We were at the park and she saw two girls run past her and doing tumbling skills across the grass. She looked my straight in the eye and said “I want to be able to do that mommy." I am not even sure what my response was but I know I kind of just blew it off.
A couple days later she called me into my room with the most excited look on her face. She asked me to “take a video mommy.” I pulled out my camera, hit record and right before my eyes she did a backbend then kicked over. I was stunned. I asked her how she learned to do that and she told me by watching a video. Wait! I wasn’t going to raise the next Mia Hamm. I had a Mary Lou Retton! But what next?
I signed her up for a tumble class at the first place I found that taught tumbling near our house. We walked in, she started her class and then five minutes later she was being taken out into the big gym where a cheer practice was being held. The cheer coach asked her to do a couple things and then out came the cheer coach and my daughter.
“ Hi. Are you her mom?” asked her coach. I smiled with a "yes" and then I was asked if my daughter wanted to join their competitive cheer Mini Level one team.
So many questions and thoughts started racing through my head. What is an actual competitive cheer team and what does Mini Level one mean?
I had signed her up to tumble, not cheer. I was not going to have a cheerleader. If I wasn’t going to have a soccer girl, I was going to have an Olympic gymnast! Cheerleading is for sissy girls. Then that blond haired blue-eyed girl looked up at me and said “Mommy please” and that request is the exact moment this soccer mom became a cheer mom like it or not.
I will never forget her first competition. I didn’t even know what competition looked like or what to expect. We were in an arena. This was huge compared to sitting on the sidelines in your lawn chair watching a soccer game. This was like a whole production. Team after team took the stage and everyone in the crowd cheered and clapped for them. Not just their gym's parents. I was in awe.
Then her team took stage. I saw her take her spot under those lights and I became overwhelmed with emotion.
The music started and they tumbled, lifted each other up off the ground, they danced, they did a pyramid and they entertained. It was a complete athletic show. Then it was over as fast as it started. I took a breath and started bawling.
Their routine was only two minutes and 30 seconds so as you hold your breath, you start to be filled with so much pride you just burst when they finish. I was probably the proudest parent in that moment. These we six to nine year olds and in my mind they looked like high school kids out there. My baby girl was a competitive cheerleader and I was hooked!
I now needed to learn everything about this sport I knew nothing about. I had to learn to do cheer hair and make-up. Throughout her years of leveling up I learned what skill sets were attached to each level. I learned what bids meant and that there were some famous cheer teams to look up to. I was determined to be the best cheer mom I could be (realizing sometimes that wasn’t always a good thing).
It wasn’t until my daughter moved to Cheer Athletics that I really was blown away by the sport. I was able to get a close-up look at World’s teams. Yes, I learned, competitive cheer has Worlds caliber athletes. We both looked up to these teams. My daughter’s dream was to be on one of these teams one day and the extra training began.
Multiple weekly practices, tumble and stunt privates, stretching and competing all year around. This was taking over both of our lives.
In 2016 my youngest daughter also joined her sister at Cheer Athletics. She was placed on her dream team, The Cheer Athletics KittyKatz. It was Youth level 1 but maybe one of the most winning teams in the gym. Her style was sassy and in your face. She had cheer facials for days! I couldn’t believe how on point her stage presence was for just her first year.
I now had two very talented cheer girls!
Absolutely but I was loving every minute of it. They both worked incredibly hard on their teams that season with my youngest being undefeated and winning Grand Champion at every competition. Then they both won Summit (held at Disney World) that season! Some athletes never get the opportunity to go to Summit yet alone win and I had two Summit Champions. What could possibly be next?
My youngest decided to hang up her cheer shoes after season two but those two seasons are where we both met some of our very best friends and in her mind she came, she saw and she conquered.
My oldest though had much more in store for her. She kept pushing and trained even harder. She was finally age eligible to be on a World’s team.
But in the words of NCA, “The Work is Worth It!” At 12 years old my daughter was invited to be on her first ever Worlds team, the Cheer Athletics Cheetahs!
She worked even harder with the Cheetahs. I couldn’t believe the grit, determination, skill, athleticism and stamina these cheerleaders had. They practiced longer and harder than I ever did in soccer. I couldn’t believe all the work that went into a two-minutes, 30 second routine. This sport was the real deal.
That year the Cheer Athletic Cheetahs won every title possible. Medal after medal, jacket after jacket. Grand Champion after Grand Champion. Then it came. My daughter was going to Worlds. To compete alongside the best teams in the world!
Then, on her first Worlds team, they did it! They scored higher than over 55 countries and 500 teams. My baby girl was a Grand World Champion at 12 years old. Ha! Take that soccer!
When I look back on our journey in cheer and talk to other parents about how they got drawn into this incredible sport, most say it was by accident and they never imagined having a child that was a competitive cheerleader on the World’s level but they wouldn’t change it for the world.
My daughter will be turning 16 this year. She is a 3x NCA (National Cheer Association) Champion, a Summit Champion, a Grand Majors Champion, a Bronze World Champion and a Grand World Champion. Its almost 16 years to the day that I had my baby shower where everyone singed that pink soccer ball. The signatures and aspirations of having a soccer girl have faded, but in their place stands the best memories, friendships, character values, awards and the strongest athlete I know.
My cheer girl, gave me the most rewarding gift and blessing: the title of her cheer mom.