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Month 7. April 2011. Stories of Hope, Healing & Heart.

There is simply no substitute for a healthy pain-free life for our athletes. Their safety is our greatest responsibility.

National Cheer Safety Month has come and gone. During March, our entire spirit community focused on safety awareness and education!

We were reminded that coaches should be safety certified, our athletes should be taught perfection before progression, and we must have a rehearsed emergency action plan. Here are a couple of organizations leading the way.

In March, The National Cheer Safety Foundation (NCSF) announced a grant program for cheer teams, offering free concussion baseline testing for 5000 cheerleaders! The first organization to accept a grant was The Spirit Professionals. To download safety resources, register an injury and find out more about the grant, visit NCSF’s site at

American Association of Cheerleading Coaches & Administrators (AACCA) offered 200 safety courses for free through a grant from NFHS and Varsity Brands. The courses were so popular! So they held a drawing to give away 10 additional safety courses to coaches each week in March. If you would like to register for training or find more AACCA resources, visit

It was also time to think of others, athletes who through no fault of their own have been injured or lost. We shared a story of one of those cheerleaders. Patty will never walk or talk again. Three years ago, she was just 17 and her stunt group cradled her from a liberty. When they did, Patty was hit in the chest and her heart stopped. She went nearly 30 minutes without oxygen to her brain. We hoped to raise $20,000 to help her family get a van so they could transport her to doctor’s appointments. Her family cares for Patty in their home, and they live simply in a small two-bedroom apartment. Sadly, we fell short of our goal. If you would like to make a donation, please click this link. Anything at all will help. You can read Patty’s story and watch her video here.

Photo shown is of Patty with her parents.

In support of Cheer Safety Month, we spoke with athletes and coaches about safety at our booth during competitions. Many went on camera in support of “cheering safe”! You can view more videos on our YouTube Channel. I had the opportunity to interview two female athletes about their cheer life experiences and injuries. Together, these ladies have a combined 14 years of cheerleading.

Catherine "Cat" Haley cheers for USA’s Planet Cheer Galaxy on their International Open Coed 5 team and Rayna Marques for Canada’s Cheersport Great White Sharks and Team Canada. They have a passion for our sport and are driven to success. I could tell you so much about these inspiring young women, but I’ll let them tell you. Here’s our interview, in their own words.

Julie: How many years have you cheered and for what teams/levels?

Cat: This will be my 10th year cheerleading. I started out at with small rec program. I began with Planet Cheer my 4th of cheerleading, and have been there since the doors opened! I also cheered at Celebrity Cheer for one season. Here is a list of teams/years I cheered for...

2001 Poland Youth League Rockettes - Rec division
2002 Mechanic Falls Mini Cats - Rec division
2003 Mechanic Falls Mini Cats - Rec division
2004 Planet Cheer Twilights - Junior Prep Small
2005 Planet Cheer Comets - Large Junior Prep Novice
2006 Planet Cheer Novas - Large Senior Coed 4
2006 Planet Cheer Comets - Small Youth 2
2007 Planet Cheer Astros - Small Senior 4
2007 Planet Cheer Orbitz - Large Junior 3
2007 Planet Cheer Starlites - Small Senior 2
2007 Celebrity Cheer Junior White - Large Junior 5
2008 Planet Cheer Astros - Small Senior 4
2008 Planet Cheer Orbitz - Large Senior Prep 3
2008 Planet Cheer Starlites - Small Senior 2
2009 Planet Cheer Galaxy International Open Coed 5
(Didn't cheer this season, because of an injury)
2010 Planet Cheer Galaxy International Open Coed 5
2011 Planet Cheer Galaxy International Open Coed 5

Rayna: This will be my fourth year cheerleading. Before cheerleading I was a national gymnast but took a break because of injury, I played soccer for 3 years until I felt ready to come back. That’s when I decided I would rather try cheerleading. Ever since I started cheerleading I have been on the same team and I absolutely love it! I have also been named to Team Canada for the third year in a row.

2007-2011 Cheer Sport Great White Sharks
2008-2011 Team Canada (current)

Julie: You also coach right?

Cat: Yes, I do! This will be my second year.

Rayna: Yes, this is the first year I have coached. I teach private and semi-private tumbling lessons as well as assistant coach a senior level 2 team.

Julie: What do you love most about cheerleading? Why do you do it?

Cat: Probably travelling around the country meeting new people, and visiting different gyms is what I love most about cheerleading. I love having the opportunity to see how other teams train, how the gyms are run, and what coaches do to condition their athletes. Why do I cheer? It's my stress reliever. Cheerleading makes me feel confident and beautiful. Learning a new skill is rewarding, but teaching an athlete a new skill is more of an honor. Cheerleading has given me the drive to become a better athlete, student, and person; the heart to treat myself and others kindly, and the passion to reach all goals possible, while helping others along the way.

Rayna: Cheerleading isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle. What I love most about cheerleading is the lessons I learn every day that can translate into practical life situations. Through cheerleading I have gained so much confidence and I have matured. I love going into the gym knowing that there are at least 23 other people gunning for me, relying on me, standing by me and helping me be the best I can be. I do cheerleading because it has become my passion. When I first started cheerleading it was more for release and being able to put my emotion into something productive and rewarding. I do it now because it still helps me in that respect but it also makes me feel accomplished, happy and a part of a family. It is amazing to travel around, meeting new people and immediately feel a connection just because you belong to the same cheerleading world. Everyone from cheerleading has an automatic understanding of all the sweat, blood and tears that each athlete puts into the sport to make themselves and their team better as athletes and as people. It’s just incredible.

Julie: How many injuries have you had?

Cat: Oh goodness, too many to count. Sprained feet, knees, ankles, neck, fingers, bruised hand, etc. As far as major injuries, I'd say two- tore my meniscus and blew out my ACL in 2008, and re-tore my meniscus and ACL in 2011.

Rayna: Between gymnastics and cheerleading I have a lot of injuries! I have broken a finger, broken my nose, dislocated my thumb and badly sprained it twice since then, I have cracked three vertebrae in my neck and sprained the muscles in it twice, I have also sprained muscles in my back and have had plenty of joints in my back and neck not working, I have split my lip, I have sprained my ankle and generally have weak ankles now from landing short. Along with my broken nose, split lip and multiple neck/back injuries I have gotten severe/minor concussions.

Julie: How many surgeries?

Cat: Going on 3 surgeries- all on the same knee.

Rayna: I haven’t had any surgeries, fortunately.

Julie: What happened this time?

Cat: I went to GymTyme for the weekend to attend a Louisville Cheer Clinic. It was my last night there, and I joined one of the teams for tumbling during one of their practices. We did one last tumbling pass, and at the last minute I decided to do a punch front, roundoff, backhandspring, full-punch-double. The goal was to focus on keeping my ankles together. I landed, and felt my knee pop back three times. It shocked me more than hurt. I sat out. (I was lucky to have such caring people around me!) The injury didn't feel as severe as my previous knee injury. As far as safety precautions, I had been tumbling on a spring floor, stretched and warmed up, and did my best to focus on the cleanliness of my tumbling. To be safe, I had previously visited a trainer on a weekly basis to do conditioning. As a team, we do multiple tumbling passes at the end of practice to keep our endurance up, and plenty of ab workouts.

Rayna: My latest injury was when I split my lip and had another concussion. I was doing a pyramid with my team and I was back spotting one of our flyovers that passed through two and a half high. It was the first time my group did the twist that was added into the skill. The twist got all the way around but the stunt didn’t travel very far and I caught my flyer straight on. Her head jerked backwards and the back of her skull hit me in the face. I dropped to the ground and was immediately bleeding. Right away I cupped my hands under my face and ran to the bathroom shaking. When I went to the bathroom I was followed by my coach, my best friend and two parents that knew me well. I went to the hospital to check everything and double check to make sure that there wasn’t anything extra that happened in my face. It turned out I did have a concussion, but my lip healed pretty quickly.

Julie: How did having this latest injury make you feel?

Cat: ☹ Honestly, I had such a fantastic weekend at GymTyme- meeting all the people I did and training with the best, I wasn't too bothered by my knee injury when it happened. I was so thankful it happened the last day I was there, and I had the opportunity to do all that I did that weekend.

Rayna: It felt disheartening to have another concussion. Since I have had concussions before, this one took a really long time to heal and to make me feel better. I actually went into a little bit of a depression afterwards. It is so hard to have to sit back and watch your team working hard and not be able to contribute. I actually remember breaking down just watching practices. That being said it was amazing to get to watch my team perform at competitions from a spectator view. I felt so proud and honored to be a part of such an incredible team. It also made me appreciate good health when I do have it, and try my best to keep that good health going. Having these types of experiences has made me a better coach by giving me the knowledge I need to help my athletes during an injury and put myself in their shoes emotionally as well.

Julie: Do you have to have surgery to repair your injury?

Cat: Yes. I am having my meniscus sewn up, and my ACL repaired with part of my hamstring.

Rayna: Nope ☺

Julie: How does your gym/team family support you when you’re injured?

Cat: I have the most amazing support system I could ask for! Over the past couple weeks I've received phone calls, bouquets of flowers, food, text messages, Facebook messages, hugs, and kisses from more people than I could have ever expected. I'm still treated as a team member although I can't compete. The gym is the reason I'm able to go through tough times in my life, and I know anything I need they will be there to best support me.

Rayna: My family and my team have always been really supportive during my injuries. When I was bedridden after my concussions my mom and my brother were always willing to wake me up every half hour to make sure I’m okay, and bring me whatever I feel I needed at the time. When I am at practices and at the gym I receive hugs and have people asking me how I feel! I love the little Facebook messages I got hoping that I am better and asking me when I’ll be ready to train again. Parents at the gym were always curious to know how I am doing as well which is nice. I appreciate all of those little things and love to know there are so many people who care about me. It’s a good feeling.

Julie: How does your extended cheer world family support you when you’re injured? How many good friends do you have on other teams/organizations that help you get through good times and bad?

Cat: After my injury occurred a few weekends ago, I had NO idea the support I would get from those in the cheer world. A number of people whom I've never met before have reached out to me through Facebook and at competition- sharing their own stories of making a comeback, wishing me good luck, and giving me plenty of prayers! I can't tell you how many hugs I received at the last competition I went to, the pictures I took, and the number of wishes for a safe surgery. It's amazing how people work through your life!

Ahhh, as far as number of good friends, I have way too many to count! I've met so many people from all over the world, and I can't explain the impact these people have made. Probably my GymTyme and Brandon Allstar friends have been closest to me through this time right now.

Rayna: My favorite thing about having an extended cheer world family is how involved they are in each other’s lives. It’s great knowing that there are people who don’t even live in the same country as me that care for my health and well being. I have quite a few good friends from other organizations that help me through good times and bad and I am so thankful that I have them. I love coming onto Facebook with messages linking me to websites and articles with more information on my injury, how to help cure it and how to prevent it. I also appreciate the messages sending me virtual hugs and kisses from everywhere. It’s so refreshing.

Julie: Is there anything else that you do to get you through tough times?

Cat: I always resort to God first when I'm going through a rough time. He is the one that gives me strength and courage, and I know that He has a better plan for me in the future! I read my bible often, listen to relaxing music by myself, spend time with family, or read Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton. (I don't even like reading, and I'd read that book a million times over if I had to!)

Rayna: I am a very artsy type person and whenever I am going through tough times I take a moment to myself to write a poem, sing, play guitar or draw/paint a picture. Sometimes my emotion will just pour right out of me and other times it stays locked inside; being able to put everything I have into a song or a poem helps me release it. The most important thing to me is my friends. They are my heart, my soul, and my support system. When I am having a rough go, I always ask to talk to someone close to me and I let everything out that way. It is the best feeling knowing that I am not being judged and I am just being listened to. I love hearing feedback on my emotion because there is always a brighter side of things and my friends can always help me find it.

Julie: What do you plan to do with your time while you recuperate/heal? Will you be having physical therapy/rehab?

Cat: Ah, very good question. It's a great time to make a Bucket List, for sure! I think while I'm out I'll continue to make bows, go to church more often, read, coach various classes at the gym, and maybe do some writing. I'm also hoping to spend some more time with family and friends this summer, since it'll be my last summer home before college next year. I suppose I'll have to fit some stretching in there, too! Yes, physical therapy will begin soon (after my next knee surgery on April 6th). From now on I'll need to rehab my knee, in order for this injury to stop reoccurring!

Rayna: My recovery time is over now, but when I was recovering I spent my time sleeping/ resting. At the time, that was the best thing for me to do. I stayed home from school a lot of the time because I was unable to concentrate and it was more appropriate to be at home. I made sure to eat healthy, drink lots of water and take vitamins as well as the medication I was given. I went and watched all of my team’s practices and competitions during my recovery time. I also occasionally had close friends stay with me so I could feel their love and support, and be able to talk to them.

Julie: What causes are important to you? What charities do you personally support with your time?

Cat: The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is very important to me. A few family members, including my cousin who was diagnosed at age 7, suffer with diabetes. In the past, the gym has been heavily involved with ADA. We've done a few walks, and host a yearly competition that donates part of our proceeds to the association.

Rayna: The Heart and Stroke Foundation is a major cause that I support as my family has a history of heart attacks and strokes. All through elementary school I did a fundraiser for the foundation called “Jump Rope for Heart” and “Hoops for Heart”. Another cause that I am involved with that is close to my heart is the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. My best friend’s mother is a survivor of breast cancer and she is such an inspiration to me. She is one of the strongest people I know, she has helped me through a lot, and she means so much to me. I have done “Relay for Life” twice to support this cause and this year my team and I did the “Run for the Cure” to raise money and awareness for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I am also a Junior Advisory Board member for Cheer for a Cause and support the causes that affect the many people involved in our cheer world. WeCHEER.WeDANCE.WeCARE.WeSHARE.

And on April 6, the day of Cat's surgery she posted, “Home from surgery. So blessed to have been worked on by the best sports surgeon in the state. Thank you to all for the prayers and kind wishes. Can’t tell you how much it means to me. Doing very well. Jesus saves. ♥”

On April 17, Cat posted, ""Just lifted my leg for the first time in a week and a half. :-O SO PUMPED. Hello progress!!!"

Photos: first four photos are of Catherine "Cat" Haley, second four are Rayna Marques.

A blog about cheerleaders and their injuries by Gina Chellino-Silsby

Gina lives in Depew, New York. She volunteers for Cheer for a Cause and blogs for Cheer Moms and Cheer Channel. Her 12-year old daughter cheers for Buffalo ENVY's Senior 4.2 team.

Ok, I know there are many athletes who practice and compete with injuries. Of course, they are also paid millions of dollars to do so. But, I am not talking about professional athletes. I am talking about cheerleaders.

I remember back in April 2009 when my daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, struck her foot against the corner of two walls and fractured her toe while at home. While this in itself was painful (to both me and her), she was upset & concerned - but not about herself. This little girl’s concern was for her all star cheer team who had a competition a week later – and whether or not she would be allowed to compete!

Of course my first priority was making sure she was ok. When it was determined she could still compete, the smile I saw lit up her entire face! Of course, I still had reservations, but as long as she had the green light to cheer, I made the decision to let her do it. After a week of rest, we taped her up & away she went! I knew she went out on that floor to do her best – and it showed! She walked away with a 2nd place team finish and a 1st place junior double trophy! Yes, as you can tell I am an extremely proud cheer mom!

After this, I definitely paid closer attention to all the cheer athletes I came across. I have seen girls with different braces and wraps cheering their hearts out. They are dedicated and sometimes more professional than the ‘pros’ we see on television. While I do think certain injuries should sideline a cheerleader until they are properly healed, I do understand some things will not keep them down. Seeing so many braces, wraps and ice pack makes me wonder what is going on in the world of cheer and are injuries on the rise as much as it appears?

I would like to add one final thought that goes out to all the cheerleaders. While it was ok for my daughter to cheer after her injury, please let your doctor, coaches and parents make the decision for you. Remember, the safety of you and your team comes first!