By Cristian Garcia
I always get the question, "How did you get into cheer?"
I really love it when people ask me, because it makes me reminisce about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the glory. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I wanted to be a cheerleader, I probably would have said no right away. Little did I know, cheerleading would change my life forever.
One day after cross country practice, as I waited by the front of the school till my mom came to pick me up, my friend Alani Chock came outside. She had just come out of the parent cheer meeting. I would say I was just an average guy in high school still trying to find his way. I asked Alani what made cheerleading so special. She showed me how to do a simple toe touch. I was so eager to get this jump correct. My very first attempt, her mouth dropped and she just stared at me. My toe touch was hyper extended and very good for just being taught minutes ago. She grabbed my hand and dragged me all the way to her coach and bragged about how amazing I was.
After a few days, I finally built up the courage to try out for the cheer team. I was super nervous. The last guy to cheer for our school was back in the 80's! Somehow I ended up making it and was really excited to see where this activity would take me. I knew NOTHING about cheerleading. I went to my very first NCA Camp ever in 2013 at Texas Tech University. I was in complete awe of what the staff was doing. I kept nudging my teammates every time I saw something and asked what they were doing next. Little did I know, I would eventually cheer along side those amazing staffers and work for one of the most amazing companies in the world -- NCA!
I cheered one year on JV and then one year on varsity. When those two years ended, it was finally time to try out for my senior year of cheer. At the time, I wasn't in a very good place in life. I was going through some hardships at home and just when I thought I found my place in life nearing the end of high school, everything seemed to crumble. My grades started to drop, I caught myself hanging out with the wrong crowd, and I found myself showing up late to school because my body was in complete overload from doing so many activities at school. I thought I could handle it all, but I quickly found out that I could not. Just as I made the cheerleading squad for my final year, I had a meeting with the principle about my grades, attendances, etc. After all was said and done, I was told that I was no longer able to represent the cheerleader team in any way. I was devastated! At the time, I was filled with so many emotions. I blamed the school, I blamed myself, and I felt like my senior year wouldn't be like everyone else's.
About three weeks after school let out for the summer, I found my way back up. There was so much that I needed to learn, and so many lessons that I needed to be taught. I thought back to my roots of cheerleading and me sitting in the crowd at cheer camp so eager to learn. One of my biggest dreams was to cheer competitively in an all star cheerleading gym. My family wasn't the most welcoming to the idea of me being a cheerleader in the first place. Also coming from a low-income family, there was no way my mom would let me do such an expensive sport. I did research and contacted the gyms in Lubbock, Texas. I came across a gym that was newly built and came in contact with the owners. I simply asked if I could join to take some tumbling classes to learn how to tumble. I eventually wanted to become a Texas Tech cheerleader someday, and the only way I was going to get there is if I got into a gym and started learning how to stunt and tumble.
The coaches were so amazed of my retention of criticism. I learned how to back tuck in five minutes! They kept asking me to join the team and cheer through the season. I was still recovering from my high school cheer team devastation, and felt like it might seem like betrayal to my old teammates. I told them I couldn't afford it. The commute was all the way across town and I told them about what happened in high school. I didn't think I could have been that big of an asset to the team. They told me that they wanted me to come to a practice and see how I like it. They said I didn't have to pay to go and that they just wanted to see me improve. Before you knew it, I was walking in on my very first all star cheerleading practice. I was very nervous and I didn't really talk to anyone. I started putting on some shoes that the gym had let me borrow to tumble in. I was the only boy. The girls were very welcoming -- they came over and introduced themselves and asked what I was doing there.
Fast forward a full season, and we had arrived to NCA All-Star Nationals. I was still very new to all of it. It definitely had been a rollercoaster of a ride. The gym was very welcoming and they helped me financially. I stayed with different families when traveling, people sponsored my uniforms, and the gym was okay with letting me cheer for free as long as I helped around the gym. It was everything I could have asked for and more. They were my family. Andrew Mitchell taught me everything I know about competitive cheerleading to this day. He's been like a big brother to me. He came from the same place as I did and we shared our stories with each other. I hold Ultimate Cheer Lubbock and all of my coaches near and dear to my heart.
Andrew helped me try out for NCA Staff that same year. I made it and I still work for them to this day. I've met so many amazing people through NCA and I'm grateful that they still give me an outlet to share my cheer journey everywhere I go. I learned a lot from my first year of school and all star cheer, especially being a guy. Men in cheerleading are often overlooked, but I've learned that anyone can cheer -- no matter how fast or slow your learning ability is, no matter how rich or poor your family is, no matter if you're a girl or boy wanting to make the impossible possible, there's a place for you. All star cheer has taught me so many life lessons that I carry with me every day: taking responsibility for your actions, learning discipline, respect, compassion, drive, athleticism, motivation, and so much more. I don't think that any other sport has ever been able to teach me what I have learned through the amazing sport of cheerleading.
I hope my story can inspire someone, and give them a platform to express themselves in something they love. Anything is possible if you put yourself out there and reach out to those around you. When you think you are down, you can always find the light and pull yourself back up and become the person you've always wanted to be. Try something new and give yourself a chance.
Has cheerleading changed or shaped your life? Share your story with us by filling out this form! #ThePowerOfCheer
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