When Cheering Leads to Change

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I often wonder why anticipation feels like dread and why excitement masks itself as anxiety. Whether I’m scared to death or counting down the days to an event, that pit in my stomach always feels the same. It was no different that warm day in May as I swiftly walked to the blue cushion mat for my one chance to become a Temple University cheerleader.

To say I was nervous would be a tremendous understatement. I dreamed of cheerleading in college since I was a little girl, simply for the rush of performing for a cheering crowd. Despite the fact that I hadn’t cheered in a few years, I felt prepared by my experience cheering for my high school team and an all-star team.

The audition process involved two grueling days of practicing and perfecting new material. I swam in a sea of red lips, pretty faces and toned bodies. Veteran cheerleaders, girls and guys alike, walked around with confidence, chatting like it was just another day. Maybe it was for them, but not for me. I practiced my tumbling, jumps and cheers for weeks leading up to that day. I researched the team, watched YouTube videos of their routines and emailed the coach questions. I was ready.

It’s never beneficial to compare yourself to others, but I couldn’t help it. I watched the competition and while some surpassed my skills, others fell short. I befriended two girls at my skill level and pictured the three of us making the team and cheering together at games. It was a thought that consumed me. I imagined no other alternative.

I swear my tumbling that day was weighed down by the sinking feeling in my stomach, but I still sprinted down the basketball court and flipped with all my might. My hands slammed against the court over and over and over again. The dizziness failed to wipe the smile off my face; that stinging sensation on my hands never felt so good.

On the second audition day, we gathered in groups to try out for the coaches. We waited in the hallway as each group was called to the mat. I think that’s when the situation became the most real. In a matter of moments, it would be my turn to perform. I was determined to give it my all. After that it would be out of my hands. I walked to the mat wiping the sweat off my hands and took a deep breath. It was my time.

I performed the cheer with overflowing enthusiasm and sharp movements. I bounced to the words and positioned my arms in a perfect Temple “T.” My stunt group did better than we had during practice and hit all but one stunt. Afterwards, I felt relief. I was as light as a cloud and happy to finish the process. And as my aching muscles reflected, I did my absolute best. I had no regrets.

Approximately a half hour later the results were up. I thought there had to be a mistake, but my name was nowhere to be found. I instinctively lowered my head to avoid making eye contact with anyone and rushed out of the gymnasium. I was crushed. In my mind, all my hard work and effort amounted to nothing. My mom was sad for me upon hearing the news, but reassured me I always could try again next year. It was an idea that I considered, but I found the thought depressing. I was defeated.

I later emailed the coach asking why I didn’t make the team. She told me it was because I lacked upper body strength, but encouraged me to try again next year. But when I had the opportunity to try out again, I opted out. It wasn’t because of fear or resentment, but because it no longer was important to me. That dream of standing in front of a crowd ceased to excite me.

Now I take more risks and go after things that seem out of reach. The chance of failing seems more like a challenge then a fear. I know the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” But maybe it’s better if at first you don’t succeed, take a chance and try something new. Just maybe that thing you want really is the failure you need before you find new dreams.

Paulina is a Junior at Temple University studying Journalism and Sociology. She loves anything from pop culture to inspirational quotes and hopes to one day call The Big Apple home.

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