Editor’s note: Athlete’s Angle is a new series in which area student-athletes share their stories from the fields, courts, pools and wherever else they compete. This week’s guest is Cony junior Christina Claudel, who plays soccer, lacrosse and competes on the cheerleading team. If your school is interested in participating in the series, please contact sports editor Bill Stewart at 621-5618.

As my feet hit the mat, I immediately feel the penetrating stares, the thousands of eyes fixed on us.

Every critic, every fan and every judge is there to watch me and what we can do. The countless hours spent in the gym come down to the next two minutes and 30 seconds. It is ‘make it or break it’ moment of a championship competition. I love the rush and the adrenaline as I soar through the air, tumbling, jumping and flying. Nobody can take away my pride in my team. I am, it seems, on top of the world.

But this is when reality comes crashing down.

At school, I repeatedly hear snide remarks, from “Well it’s not a real sport” to “you didn’t even place.” Oh, and this: “If you guys practice so much, why aren’t you good?”

Welcome to the world of cheerleading.

Critics, of course, say it’s not a real sport. Unless the team comes in first, nobody cares. Nobody cares about the seven-hour practices on Saturdays or the five-hour practices after school. Nobody cares about the offseason workouts. Nobody outside the sport understands it.

But ignorance is bliss, right?

Well, not when you’re on the receiving end of it.

I’ll be honest, I never even considered becoming a cheerleader until November of my junior year — just a few weeks before tryouts. I had never heard the terms “cradle,” “basket toss,” or “side hurdler.” Heck, I couldn’t even do a cart wheel so how could I ever become a cheerleader? Ironically, the only thing that convinced me to try out was the misconceived notion that engulfs the cheerleading world: It was easy.

Boy, was I wrong.

My first wake-up call came early on when my coach, Angela Hinkley, looked at me and asked, “Do you think cheerleading is a joke?”

I wanted to say, “Eh, maybe; it can’t be that difficult. Easy varsity letter, right?”

However, she scared me too much to say that, so instead I sputtered out, “No, of course not.”

From that point on, I wanted to prove to not only her but also myself that cheerleading wasn’t a joke. I gave it everything I had all the time. Every practice, every game and every competition proved to be a challenge. It was a challenge to be better than I was the day before. I used every hurtful comment that came out of my peers’ mouths to push me to become better.

Cheerleading was totally different than anything I was used to. It got me thinking, what defines a “real” sport? I already played soccer and lacrosse, which certainly can be classified as sports, but cheering did not seem any different.

The Women’s’ Sports Foundation defines a sport as this:

1) It must contain physical activity that involves propelling/resisting mass.

2) A contest or competition against an opponent.

3) It must have rules and guidelines.

Gee, this sounds a lot like cheering to me.

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