January 29, 2013  |  Life Beyond Cheer

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.

Ryan Martin

  • Larry MULLENS

    Thank you Ryan for a wonderful life story. Bigger things ahead.

  • Keiana

    This is such a great story. I remember being obsessed with cheerleader nation when I was younger. I met Ryan at a cheer camp in Kentucky one day and I was way too excited. She was and still is my cheer idol. I love that she was able to share her story with us. It’s weird to think that she is graduating. I will be graduating soon and it’s all so surreal. I wish Ryan the best of luck on all her future endeavors.

  • Bree

    This story made me seriously bawl. I absolutely loved cheerleader nation. I have been looking forever to see how the girls are and where they ended up. I was 13 when cheerleader nation was on. I was a cheerleader through the whole show and up until the end of high school. I loved Ryan and her mom. I am so glad to have come across this. I wish I had the chance to meet her that would have been a blessing. I hope Ryan and the other girls are great!

  • Jackie

    I loved Cheerleader Nation! I unfortunately decided to stop cheering as my freshman year approached because my doctor recommended it, I had been cheering for 5 years (2 years competitively) and its my one regret in life.
    Watching UCA championships every year I think “that could have been me”. I was lucky enough to have my mother coach my squad one year and while it was tough and there was a lot of fighting it was a great experience. Cheerleader Nation was great to watch but it did make me miss cheering so much but I loved seeing cheer practices again and since I am the same age it was like a godsend for me. Ryan is my idol and I’ve actually been watching reruns of the site recently and gave decided I’m going to do whatever I can to get back into cheering, maybe coach a local youth squad or something. Thank you so much for reminding me how much I love this sport!

  • Maria

    We love Ryan! She has been a great role model and an awesome Big Sister at Bama Camp. We will miss her and we wish he rthe best in everything she does! Roll Tide!!!

  • Mimi

    Wanted to Thank you for the story that I glad to have to two grand daughters read this., They are only 8 & 6 but they love to watch Cheerleading Nation. I believe they have been recorded each one at least 5 times. My family did own the property that was sold and now Dunbar sits on top of the site. I am so glad that my girls can see that cheerleading is a positive thing in their life and that Have Faith and believing in God is acceptable by leaders in our country.

    Thank you and may God Bless you as you face your future and God is in control…

  • Mimi

    Would like to Thank you for your reflections of your days as a cheerleader and how it has helped you over the years. I have two grand daughters that have read this., They are only 8 & 6 but they love watching Cheerleading Nation. I believe they have recorded each one at least 5 times. Dunbar sits on property which belonged to my great grandfather (so I am told). I am so glad that my girls can see that cheerleading can be a positive thing in their life and that having Faith and believing in God is acceptable by leaders in our country.

    Thank you and may God Bless you as you face your future and God is in control…

    Mimi of Texas

  • Ryan Martin

    Thank you all very much for your sweet messages! I really appreciate them!

    Just for a quick update: I moved to Memphis two weeks ago for a job! I am now the Content Editor for American Cheerleader Magazine and a member of the Varsity marketing team. Hope to meet some of you in the future 🙂

    Thanks again,