How I Trained My Body (and Mind) to be a Cheerleader

As a young child, I tried playing multiple sports and it always ended the same way: my teammates would excel and develop into confident athletes, while I would always feel awkward and out of place, like something just wasn’t clicking. Eventually, I concluded that I was simply non-athletic and could never play a sport. I went through both elementary and middle school with this belief about myself, resigned to sit on the sidelines as a spectator forever … or so I thought. 

In ninth grade, I decided to take a big risk and try out for the cheerleading team. I had been watching a few close friends cheer for several years, and I admired the way they energized the crowd at football and basketball games, and felt my spunky personality might be a good fit for cheerleading, too. But trying out for cheer meant going against everything I so strongly accepted for all those years. For starters, it meant I would have to get strong, flexible and learn to tumble. It also meant I had to shed my persona as the un-athletic girl in gym class who worried that she wouldn’t get picked to be on a team. I knew I had a lot of hard work ahead of me. But I also knew that if I could do this, I could do anything. 

I was determined to make the cheer team to prove to myself that I didn’t have to be held back by my own self doubt. I knew that the only way I could transform into an athlete was to give it everything I had. I spent countless hours practicing basic tumbling skills at home, and I began stretching, lifting weights, holding planks, doing sit-ups and running a mile every day. Seeing my body morph into an athlete’s before my own eyes was one of the most thrilling experiences. I went from not being able to touch my toes to doing splits on both legs and holding handstands. 

This was just the beginning of my training. I enrolled in private tumbling lessons with a local gymnastics instructor, but because I only knew a few basic skills, he said it would take at least a year to get the round off back handspring I needed to make the cheerleading team. I didn’t have that kind of time on my hands, but I did know how to work hard. Ultimately, what was supposed to take a year, I completed in just four months of weekly lessons with extra practice at home. 

Once I made the cheerleading team, my newfound sense of athleticism only grew. I was a flyer, which meant I learned how to balance on people’s hands in the air and pull tricks on one foot. My team even went on to win the grand championship at the local high school cheerleading competition. While that might seem like it would have been the greatest award I could have asked for, the ultimate award actually came in the knowledge that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. 

Challenging myself to become an athlete after years of believing it was impossible has made me determined to never again hold myself back with false notions of what I’m actually capable of. What I may have lacked in innate skill, I more than made up for in grit, determination and effort. Nothing is impossible if you are willing to work for it.

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About Emily O'Neil 114 Articles
Emily O’Neil is a third-year public relations major with a minor in creative writing, originating from Clifton Park, NY. This is her sixth semester on the Oracle and second as Sports Editor. Her favorite team is the New York Yankees even though they keep disappointing her. You can reach her by emailing