When one door closes, another one opens. That’s currently the motto I am using to remind myself that even though my cheerleading career as an athlete is pretty much over, great things are ahead in my future. Every time I reach a big milestone in my life, I love to look back and reflect on what I learned and how I can use that to move forward. Let’s take a look back in time…
My mother, Donna Martin, accepted a teaching job at Paul Laurence Dunbar high school back in 1989 when she was pregnant with me. The job had a catch- she also had to accept the job as the head cheerleading coach. Ever since that day 23 years ago, my life has revolved around this activity that we all know and love. My very first birthday was spent at a cheerleading competition. Before I started school, my days were spent in the gym watching and learning from all of my “babysitters” a.k.a. my mom’s cheerleaders. From a very young age, I remember thinking “I want to be just like them,” but I had no idea that cheerleading could take me so far and teach me so much.
At age five, I joined my very first competitive team- The Pep Club All Stars in Lexington, Ky. The coaches, teammates, and memories made there will never be forgotten. Besides learning my first routines, I also learned about teamwork and dedication. I also experienced my first taste of success with Pep Club when we won Cheersport nationals twice! I stayed with Pep Club until my sophomore year of high school where I was also cheering for my mom and former University of Kentucky coach, Saleem Habash. I still look up to these two people and want to make them proud in everything I do.
My Dunbar days are still some of the best days of my life. Having my mom as a coach was difficult, but it was also very special. Not many people get a chance to share something like that with one of their parents. I never had to worry about explaining what a pyramid was to her and I never had to worry about her being one of those crazy “cheer moms.” We did our best to keep it “professional” at practice and we tried not to take too much of practice back home with us. Not only was my mom there for our reality show and national championships, she was a major part of it all and was there to share the success.
After high school cheerleading ended, I never thought I would find another program like Dunbar. Thankfully, I was wrong. Despite my old dreams and family’s wishes, I traded in my Kentucky blue for crimson and never looked back. David McDowell was one of the only people I knew in Alabama at that time, but I trusted what I felt was right and put my faith in him and his program. David was more than a coach at UA. He was a “life coach” to each and every one of us. He taught us all about teamwork, dedication, responsibility and always strived to set a good Christian example for us. I still consider him a close friend and try everyday to make him proud. I will never be able to repay him for taking a chance on me. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the success that I have had in cheerleading, or in life.
I was lucky enough to cheer for David for two years at UA, and after he left, we received another great coach in Brian Groeschell. Brian also believed in setting a good example for us in life as well as cheerleading. During my last two years at Alabama, I know I could have called Brian for help at anytime, day or night, and he would have done everything in his power to make it right. Personally, it took me a little longer to adjust to Brian’s methods, but there is no doubt that he knows how to achieve success. Since we are a “football school,” Brian found ways to relate cheerleading to football, so that we could all understand. We broke our season down into four quarters and approached each quarter just like Coach Saban and his team does. It was a great way for my team to understand where we were in our season and what we had left to do.
After competing for the last time at UCA College Nationals last weekend, I was lucky enough to earn a spot on Team USA All Girl with a stunt group from UA. We still have a lot of work to do, but I am looking forward to putting together a routine and hopefully competing one last time on the big, blue mat. Now that I am looking back, I’ve realized that it’s not the physical aspect of cheerleading that I will miss. I’ll miss feeling like a part of something bigger than myself. Being a part of a team is what motivates me and pushes me to be my best every day. Whether it was at Dunbar, Alabama or for my country, it’s not about myself. It’s about representing all of the people who came before me, and all who will come after me. Whenever I’m at practice, workouts or competition, I’m constantly looking around at the people next to me and I’m working hard for them. Because at the end of the day, success is much sweeter when it is shared with those you care about most.
I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future and I’m excited to take the next step. I can’t express how much I have enjoyed sharing these past few years with you all and how much your comments have meant to me. I hope to stay involved in the cheerleading world and continue to give back to it what it has given to me.