FORGET THE POM-POMS
They came from all four corners of the country to meet and compete in Castlebar. The venue was a high tech sports arena in the Breaffy House Resort where scores of teams aged from four to forty competed for the coveted titles on offer.
This was my first experience of such an event and it blew my mind. Like most, I thought cheerleaders were an interval gig, a half-time filler for the real athletes but I could not have been more wrong. These guys and girls ARE the real athletes, honed, toned and super fit. Training regimes are all year round and often more intense and demanding than traditional team pursuits, and the results? The results are spectacular.
In a two minute time slot the combined skills of the team are unleashed in a highly choreographed, insanely fast moving display. It's cirque du soleil meets gymnastics with a liberal dash of glamour and high flying stunts that really catch your breath. Bodies tumble, flip and somersault in all directions at once culminating in 'flyers' soaring ten or fifteen feet in the air before being expertly caught by the team in seamless fluid motions.
The biggest cheers for a well executed manoeuvre come from the other teams who can best appreciate the degree of difficulty involved. There're plenty of moms and dads on hand, the unsung backroom labourers ready with plasters, ice-bags, hairspray and fluids. Lots of fluids. The intensity of the physical activity cannot be overestimated.
For the discerning girl, cheerleading has everything - exercise a hundred zumba classes couldn't provide - glamour you couldn't buy and friendships with like minded girls who literally put their lives in your hands and vice versa every time they take to the floor. For the boys, it's fifty to one or more of some of the fittest, most dedicated athletes in the country.
Cheerleaders are achievers. You won't see these people smoking fags or supping beers, far more likely to see them in the gym putting the so called 'real' athletes to shame.
At the end of the two day spectacular I was exhausted from just watching. As my daughter Katie and I drove home, I was looking forward to coffee and cake, she, on the other hand, was texting away to the other cheerleaders and arranging to go to the gym the following day.
So the next time you think of cheerleaders as ra ra girls, think again and see them for the super dedicated athletes they truly are.