It was my last semester of college and thereby my final year of competitive cheerleading at the University of Illinois. This upcoming trip would be my third Spring in a row at the familiar hotspot Daytona Beach, Florida –
site of the NCA Cheerleading Nationals Competition each year. Not only is this a great week off from school with fun teammates and a change in scenery, (escaping the unbearably cold U of I campus), it is also a chance to showcase what we worked all year for as a team – spending countless hours in the gym training our
It is always a mix of emotions when I arrive: excitement, nervousness, anxiety, exhaustion and soreness from the intense week of practice, and euphoria all at the same time! The routine is the same each Nationals trip – and this year was no exception. We bus it from the airport to the hotel (after flying in the wee hours of the a.m.) only to quickly change into workout gear and hit the beachfront for a sunset practice amongst the palm trees. Tumbling, stunting, and dancing in the light of the colorfully-painted sky is always a favorite of mine. We effortlessly get back into the swing of things and enjoy showing off our hard-earned skills. This year we even had time
to hit the pool first due to our early arrival. We laid out in the sun and, despite the chilling temperature of the water, braved the ocean waves.
That night we dressed up for a night on the strip enjoying an Italian team dinner to gain back some much-needed calories. Sleep was a struggle as the next morning is Prelims of the competition…
I woke at 5am to begin curling my long tresses and help apply makeup to the team’s sun-kissed and nervous faces. Warming up at the Ocean Center Arena is a surreal experience – surrounded by hundreds of teams showing their best skills ready to compete. After a whirlwind practice on the practice mat backstage, we are stuffed behind a threatening black curtain which will open to smoke machines and overbearing lights upon our announcement to the competition floor. This is the worst part of Nationals. What is probably five minutes feels like an
eternity… my palms sweating, legs shaking, and heart beating out of my chest. When they call our name and we run out onto the mat – my fears subside and I have the time of my life. The booming music and cheering crowd gets us going – and our performance was solid and one of the best we have done! Though we were not one of the top teams in the country in our talent-packed division, we entered day two confident.
The afternoon was spent at none other than IHOP, then practicing some more, showering up, and enjoying a team dinner in the hotel. The next day of competition was Finals where we placed tenth – suitable enough for us,
meaning we could spend the rest of the sunny day in bathing suits watching the other teams compete while sipping Margaritas. That we did – and enjoyed every
After doing a beachside photo shoot in uniform, we basked in the sun sitting on towels with thousands of other athletes, watching the final competitions of the best teams in the country. (This is cool if you like the sport – though I realize most do not).
I got tipsy enough to shower up and keep the party going with the team. Me and the other seniors gave parting speeches and took celebratory champagne toasts before heading out to the infamous club
“Razzle’s”for a night of ridiculous dancing. This night of course ended in the hotel pool at about 4am.
Our last day in Florida was spent sunbathing, shopping, and throwing each other around at Stuntfest, a crazy compilation of athletes from all the teams throwing crazy and often illegal stunts. We spent a team bonding night at our pool and bid adieu to the sandy shore the next morning.
This was my last cheerleading performance after almost a decade in a sport I have loved since I was little. I was sad to close this chapter in my life for good…though you still may sometimes find me flipping around the beach.
For pictures from this trip, visit the Photos Page or click here!