Flipping stereotypes and catching camaraderie

With dim lights and faded blue walls, scuffed from years of use, the McKinnon apparatus gym is not designed to inspire a crowd. Just don’t tell that to the cheerleaders. For two hours a day, three times a week (during the on-season), the UVic cheer team develops the routines that students see at sporting events year-round, particularly during basketball games.

After a stretch, a run, and tumbling exercises, they get into small groups and work on new and more elaborate stunts that demand strength and flexibility. Ryan Isherwood, a financial math and economics student, was looking for a way to stay fit, and found cheer was a perfect match for his gymnastics background. As a “third,” Isherwood calls out instructions to his stunt group and supports the flyer’s ankles.

Unlike NFL cheerleaders, who don’t attempt stunts, the UVic cheer team bases their routines on high-flying and high-risk feats. The team’s closeness shows, as they laugh and support each other (physically and emotionally) when limbs begin to quiver.

“It’s more of an intimate relationship, because you actually have to trust each other with your lives,” says Mishan Hedge, a second-year psychology student. Hedge’s small frame and experience makes her an ideal flyer. To get a sense of her perspective, I strapped a GoPro camera to her head as she was thrown into the air. Though it is impressive enough as an observer, it is truly frightening from a first-person view.

“People think it’s girls in skimpy uniforms, running around and shaking their pom-poms, which it’s absolutely not,” says Kate Bell, a third-year English major and a base. The co-ed team includes people of all shapes and sizes, and holds open practices so curious students can see what the sport is truly about.

While the team usually performs during basketball events, they also appear during other UVic events, sometimes on short notice. They were given just over two weeks to prepare for a two-and-a-half minute routine at the Vikes Nation Dance Showcase on March 29, and pulled together a crowd-pleasing routine with confidence, after working out the kinks during practice.

Though the routines might only last a few minutes, Bell’s cheerleading experience will always remain with her. “Once you’re a cheerleader, you’re a cheerleader for life. You’ll never be able to relive that or fill that gap with any other sport.”

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