I Was a Professional Cheerleader

And I even have my own Barbie! Sort of.
Publish date:
September 14, 2011
sports, cheerleading, Barbie, nostalgia reality check

10 years ago this conversation never would have happened:“Wait, how many points do you get for that other thing that's not kicking?”“Do you mean a two-point conversion?”“Yes.”“A two-point conversion, Helena? How many points do you think you get for that?”Rest your gender parity little heads, this isn’t one of those girls-hate-sports-and-boys-super-love-them-all-night-long posts. There are plenty of fellas who don’t get Football and there’s plenty of people with va jay jays sporting varsity starter jackets. Or maybe not. Are those even cool still?Anyway, last weekend my boyfriend ran a triathlon on the sidelines of which I bellowed from my diaphragm like a pro, which immediately transported me to the days when I knew exactly what a “two-point conversion” was and what “First and ten, first and ten, go blue go!” actually meant. See, I used to be a professional cheerleader. I even have my own Barbie -- sort of.

Ever since the 11th grade I’ve sis boom bah-ed my butt off as the captain of somebody’s cheerleading squad. I competed at Nationals, people. I won first place in my “song” division with a double turn so swift it tore a tendon in my hip. I limped to the judges’ podium. And the pom poms de resistance?

I busted a move for the New Jersey Nets “Power N’ Motion” dance team in 2001 – 2002, the same storied season “we” took it all the way to the NBA Championships and lost against my hometown team, the Lakers. Once I even "met" Justin Timberlake, who was wandering around the locker rooms with a ginormous body guard. This was sandy blond curly 'fro Justin. Him and his bodyguard came over to where we were stretching and just sort of watched us. This sounds pervy but it wasn't. It was awesome. Justin Timberlake has watched me stretch out my hamstring. Those were the days, man.

The bedazzled costumes. The arena. The sea of blue and silver up in the stands. The players we were contractually obligated NOT to speak to socially. Even the time I let the noise throw me off and crashed into another dancer who then refused to speak to me for a week. Those were the moments when I slipped into a "family friendly" uniform and another person's body. A person who smiled at strangers, who let herself "get into it," whose every sentence ended in exclamation: "Let's go!" "All the way!" "Wooooo!"

After that season, my skirt-shaking days had reached their zenith. Retirement was my only option. Plus, I totally got blacklisted. It was something about a student newspaper interview where I was quoted as saying, "Dancing for the Nets is great now, but I’m not a fan. I’m a Lakers person." Huh? Whaaa? Needless to say the following year my number was not called after the first round of auditions, totally unheard of for a "vet." Despite the protests of my now former teammates, I packed up my gym bag and left, never looking back. NBA Barbie never broke out the box.

My cheer days have been behind me ever since. Only a few close friends can recall with certainty how bendy I used to be. How upbeat pepping for a living made me. Now I'm a lovable ball of sarcasm on a good day. An early onset curmudgeon every other.

But as I Sharpie'd the bubble letters of yesteryear on a slab of poster board, announcing how awesome my boyfriend was, I remember how awesome I used to be out on the field, or the court or wherever I was screaming for the day.

Now? Now, I don't even own a pair of tennis shoes, unless you count the Supergas I got off GiltGroupe, because I spend most of my time in front of a computer and not a crowd.Why do we do that? Why do we let the things that meant so much to us then slip away before they should? One of my best selves was illuminated by Friday Night Lights. And when they went dark, I just chalked it up to old age. Um, I'm 30. But that's all going to change in the third quarter! As part of my 31st birthday resolutions, I'm planning to commandeer a cheer squad next season, passing on all my rah rah skills to the next generation of would-be high kickers. So if you know of a Washington-area team that needs to get their "Sister Act II" on, cheer-style, let a sister know.

Also, I want to hear about all the awesome stuff you did way back when that you're ready to pump up the jam on. Tae Kwon Do? The tuba?