Sound Off by Katherine Michalik

My mother has never been one to cuss. Coming from a religious family, her language was fairly clean. That day my mother told me to “go kick some ass.” It was her way of showing support because “good luck” was just not going to cut it. From then on, it became a tradition. At every competition, it would be the last thing she would say to me before I went to warm up.

When I was in eighth grade, I grew tired of the same old sports I had been participating in for years. After watching my sister’s competitions, I knew exactly what sport I wanted to do next. Competitive cheerleading. Notice I said competitive cheerleading, not sideline cheerleading. Yes, there is a difference.

Breathe. This is the moment. Eight months, two weeks, four days. The moment we’ve been preparing for. In. Out. It’s almost time. The crowd waits quietly. Dim the lights, it’s show time. Our name is called. We step out onto the stage. Breathe. Spotlight on us. Loud cheers from all around. Take our spots. Stand patient for the music to come on. In. Out. Take it all in. Staring down at the blue mat. Bright white shoes, torn and beat from practice. Focus. Eyes closed. One last deep breath. This is where we belong. We earned it. Now prove it to them.

I wanted something much harder than what I was used to, something where there was always a new skill to obtain. That way, I could never get bored. Almost like playing a video game. There’s a second level after you beat the first level and a third after you beat the second and so on. Cheerleading was the hardest sport I had ever done. No other sport had pushed me to flip upside down or fly through the air. I question how some of that stuff is possible anyway. Our routine is only two and a half minutes, but our bodies are pushed, testing how far they can go — to the point where it feels like they might just give out. But the feeling at the end of it all is so worth it.

I have a full-time job with cheerleading. Hours and hours of listening to the music to memorize it completely. Running and conditioning to make it through the routine without collapsing. Bruise after bruise from getting elbowed and kicked while throwing a girl into the air. Even when I’m not at practice, I’m practicing. Playing the dance a few hundred times in my head. Attending extra classes to perfect my tumbling skills. Imagining the perfect routine over and over, until failure seems impossible. It all seems so insane. All this time and effort for what? A trophy?

My body still aches. Quite honestly I don’t think it will ever heal. My back will only get worse with age, as will my knees, but I wouldn’t take back any of the time I spent falling on them. I wouldn’t take back the hundreds of bruises or busted lips I went home with. Nor would I take back the nights spent stretching and icing sore muscles.

There’s only one big competition that matters. One reason why we push ourselves so hard to reach perfection. Nationals. All year we train and prepare. We break our bodies, and souls, for those two and a half minutes under the bright lights. The crowd screams loudly when we hit the skill we’ve been drilling for months. Our coach jumps up and down when we finally put into action everything she’s been yelling at us during practices. And when it’s all done, we hit our final pose.

No matter what place we get, the best part about cheerleading is how close of a team we are. My teammates have become my second family. Let’s face it, being around the same people for eight hours a week nearly all year round, you tend to bond with each other. Forget having boundaries as well; that’s a luxury you do not get. There is no longer this girl and that girl, only us.


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