Being A Legend

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I should be in Florida right now.  I’m maybe just a tad bitter about the fact that instead, I am home in Missouri.

Four-ish years ago, if you had told me what I’d be missing out on right now, I would have said I know I’d be bummed to be missing a trip to Florida with my girlfriends for a long weekend.  But there’s way more to it than that.

I’ve missed out on races I’ve trained hard for, it’s painful.  I was trained for a marathon in March. It was canceled due to this Coronavirus mess.  But this time around, Coronavirus messed with my daughter.

Those four-ish years ago, Ally decided to try competitive cheer.  She’d tried a couple other sports, but nothing had really stuck.  And I thought for sure her desire to cheer came from a place of watching too much Dance Moms.  She always said she just liked watching the dance part of the show, not all the mom drama.  But when I showed up with Ally to our first out of town competition in Louisville, I was pretty convinced I would have a run in with Abby Lee Miller.

I felt like a fish out of water.  I had no clue how to help Ally with her hair, or her make-up.  My tight monthly budget went out the window with tuition, uniforms, comp fees, travel expenses.  Ugh.

On top of all that, I didn’t know any of the moms.  Well, except for my ex-husband’s new wife since Ally’s step-sister was also on the same team.  It was uncomfortable, to say the very least.

As the first season progressed, something became very clear.  While Ally’s team was a part of an established St. Louis gym, it was the first year they’d filled a team of the level Ally fell into.  It was, shall we say, a building year.  Her team was not great. They came in last at every single competition that season.

Ally and I drove lots of miles together that season.  We tried to meet up with Ally’s teammates and their parents occasionally but mostly it was just the two of us, doing our thing.  She was having fun learning new skills and making friends, I was trying to survive.  I wiped a lot of tears and gave a lot of speeches about how it was a learning experience. I talked about how learning to lose graciously was important, and it made you appreciate winning so much more.

The season finally came to an end in Columbus, OH and after sitting through an awards ceremony where the girls came in last, again, we had a nine-hour drive back to St. Louis.  We pulled in well after midnight and got up for work and school the next morning.  I was so glad that was over.

But, it wasn’t over.  A few weeks later were tryouts and Ally was ready to go back for more.  I was proud that she didn’t want to give up after such a demoralizing first year.  She said, “My goal next year is to improve my skills. And someday I want to compete at Summit.”  I had no clue what she was even talking about.

The next year, she started the season and immediately became attached at the hip to her soul sister.  She and Sav were inseparable from the start.  I finally got to meet Sav, and her mom DJ, at the first competition of the season in Nashville. The first showing of the season was shaky, but as the season progressed, we could tell the girls were gelling and had a chance to do well.  Ally and Sav bonded with a couple of the other girls, and I enjoyed getting to know their moms.  I was glad to discover that they didn’t stir the pot like the moms on Dance Moms, and they were actually very down to earth.

By the time Spring Break rolled around, the girls still didn’t have their bid to Summit, but they were so close.  They could taste it.  They wanted it.  An email went out to the parents proposing an extra competition to give the girls one last shot at earning their way to the big comp at the end of the season at Disney’s ESPN zone.  The girls had worked hard, they’d earned it, and the parents made it happen.  Athletes traveled with other families, some families canceled spring break trips, we signed the forms, paid the fees and went off to KC for one more shot.

It didn’t go great.  They girls thought they blew it.  But the following Monday the girls got the news, they got their bid and were invited to Summit.

We rented a house with some of the other girls and their mom’s over Mother’s Day weekend in 2018.  I had been married less than 2 weeks when Ally and I boarded a flight to Orlando at 7:50pm on a Thursday night that could have been mistaken for a Cheer Legendz charter flight.  We landed in Florida, took a shuttle to the house, threw some frozen pizzas in the oven for a 2am dinner and stayed up most of the night, just excited to be there.

The whole weekend was amazing.  The girls competed and did well on their first day, but unfortunately, they didn’t make it to finals.  We made the best of it by spending Mother’s Day sipping mimosas by the pool and then Mothers and Daughters went off to the Magic Kingdom.

We laughed, we cried, we bonded.  We slept too little and we had the time of our lives.

Year 3.  Ally continued to push herself and improve her skills.  I was so happy that she had found an athletic passion to pursue and the camaraderie of a team.

Despite the fact that our group had girls split up over 3 different teams, we began traveling to most of the competitions with our little pack.  Sometimes we got home at 4am, sometimes we drove through blizzards and ice storms, counting how many cars were off the road in the ditch.  We cheered on all the girls.  We celebrated birthdays, and other milestones, on the road. We supported each other through highs and lows, we came together in good times and bad.  But we had found our people and we had become a family.

At the end of that season, only Madalyn’s team had earned their way back to Florida.  Ally landed her back tuck right before tryouts and she was ready to bring it.

That brings us to this year.  The 2019-2020 season.

When the e-mail announcement went out for team placements, we were all on pins and needles.  Gabriella had given up competitive cheer in place of HS cheer.  But we had our fingers crossed that Madalyn, Savanna and Ally would be placed together.  We were hoping for several other girls as well. And they all came together.

A cheer went up (pun intended) through all of St. Louis when we got the word.  Cougarz.  We were ready and we knew this team was something special.  There was no doubt we were making our way back to Summit.

At the first comp of the season in Nashville, the girls proved us right.  They got their bid.  And one by one, the other Cheer Legendz teams got theirs, as well.  The season was going swimmingly.

In the middle of the season however, the girls were one by one, coming to the conclusion that it was going to be their last season cheering.  And then another announcement came.  This was the last season for Cheer Legendz too. The owners were selling the gym to ICE athletics and this was our farewell tour.   We all agreed, we were going out with a bang.

In January, we made flight reservations and rented a house.  We started talking plans and getting excited.  We invited a couple other moms and their girls to join us.  Even some of the grandmas were going to join in the fun.  A girls’ weekend with Cheer and Disney, we were over the moon.

And then, in early March, as talk of a pandemic started swirling, our plans started to crumble.  We held on to hope that Summit would stand.  Or even if it got pushed back, we might still be able to make it work.  I waited until last week to finally cancel my plane ticket; I was in complete denial.

Summit is still being held this year, in June now, but all the big gyms have pulled out.  And frankly, we still really don’t even know what next month will look like.  Our girls haven’t worked out at the gym since before Spring Break.  The dream is over.

But, is it?

Here’s the thing.  Yes, this was a totally crappy and anti-climactic way for the chapter to end.  The chapter of Ally’s cheer career, the end of Cheer Legendz, the way we were supposed to go out on such a high note.  Ok, so yes, the dream for all that is over.  But what it has led to is so many other dreams.

My little girl learned what it feels like to be part of a team.  She learned what it’s like to love a sport with her whole heart and she learned how to pursue excellence.  She learned how to lose and how to win. She learned how to pick herself up and keep on going, and how to hold her head high. Her cheer years gave us so many fun memories during her high school years that have bonded us in a way I could never have imagined.  Cheer gave us friends who are like family.

On Saturday, we were supposed to be in Florida for the girls to compete.  We didn’t get to do that.  But Anthony, one of the coaches/owners of Cheer Legendz was celebrating a birthday.  His partner Ryan organized a birthday parade, out in front of Cheer Legendz.  We made signs and decorated the car.  We met up with our little crew in Chesterfield valley and then we sat in line for Over An Hour to say Happy Birthday to Anthony.

But it was more than a birthday parade.  We waved to so many familiar faces.  We gathered in the parking lot and took socially distanced pictures.  We got to say good-bye to the season that was supposed to be.  It was what we all needed.

Kind of like the season, I don’t really know how to bring this to a close.  But I do know that I will never forget how much Ally’s cheer years have given me and my girl.  And even if you don’t know how the dream will end, always always ALWAYS pursue it with everything you’ve got.  Because That’s what it feels like to be a Legend.

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