I am home in Dallas for my Spring Break, and to kick off the week, I will be attending one of the grandest spectacles of athleticism unknown to most of mankind: NCA Nationals. Yes, I will be one of the thousands of spectators cheering on cheerleaders as they fly through the air and master incredible tumbling feats that most of us wouldn’t dare dream of. When I’m not watching them/coveting their physiques, I will be reading a book, trying to forget that my body used to be able to do some of those things. Yes, indeed — I was once a competitive cheerleader, too. It’s hard to believe when I’m looking at the Freshman 15 in the mirror sometimes.
This is also a big weekend in the Alvarado household because both of my little sisters will be competing. As always, there comes a time where having three girls in the house can get a little competitive. The night before NCA stirs up a little mud in our otherwise sisterly affections. It’s nights like these where it’s good to remember that although we’re sisters, we’ve all taken different paths. Our lives are the same, but they are so, so different. In order to explain this, I’ve got to explain my sisters. Just give me a few moments– I’ve even got pictures!
Caroline, the youngest of the family, is one of the incredibly athletic Cheer Athletics flyers who will be flying through midair this weekend. I will be holding my breath the entire time she is competing, wishing I could run out there and catch her myself. She’s tiny and precious and fierce as a Cheetah, but if they break her, they will deal with me. I watched her learn how to fly, and I witnessed the hours she has put into this sport, mastering unbelievable flexibility and strength (look at those abs!). In fact, Caroline has always been obsessed with muscles. When she was maybe six or seven, I watched her eat a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in a very unorthodox manner: she slurped up a spoonful, checked her bicep, and slurped some more. Apparently she was under the impression that the milk in her bowl would make her muscles stronger. The kid eats more cereal than anyone I have ever known, and looking at her fit little bod now, I’m thinking she was onto something.
Caroline is known for being a sassy fireball full of wise-crackings and jokes, but she is also incredibly tender-hearted and compassionate. There have been multiple occasions where she has walked in on me crying and cried with me, without even knowing what we were crying about. The first time Caroline won an NCA jacket, she cried for Megan who wanted one so badly and still hadn’t won one. She is full of justice, always searching for the compromise that is most fair for everyone involved. She is wise beyond her years: as a six year old, she would act like a thirteen year old. Now that she’s (almost) thirteen, she acts like a twenty year old. We are seven years apart, but the older we get, the smaller that gap seems to be. In her, I now have a charming, energetic, wise, and compassionate friend, who also happens to be a little superstar in the cheerleading world. Tomorrow she will be stopped for pictures by plenty of young girls who hope to be just like her one day. Heck, I’ll probably stop her and ask for a picture. I want to be this little girl when I grow up.
Megan, my middle sister, graciously agreed to come out of her injury-induced retirement from cheerleading to compete this weekend for her seventh and last time at NCA for Express Cheer. It is a heart-wrenchingly perfect end to her career, and I can’t wait to see her in uniform again. However much she has tried to deny it, she has been a cheerleader from square one. In fact, she’s the reason our family got into competitive cheerleading. Always athletic, always dedicated, always an exceptional member of whatever team she was on, Megan was It, and it didn’t take long for Caroline and I to want her life, too. Injuries and personal reasons overtook her, though, and with a lot of heartache, she stepped down from her pedastal about two years ago.
What’s more impressive about the fact that Megan has come out of retirement is the circumstance she has had to beat in order to do it. This summer, Megan was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Her thyroid worked too hard, and it literally ate her away from the inside. After months and months of radioactive treatments, pills that made her body break out in hives, losing chunks of hair, gaining unwanted weight, and not having the energy to even make it through a day without two or three naps, Megan has worked with her doctors to regain a healthy chemical balance. I came home today to find a bouncing Megan that I have not seen in over a year. Her life has not been easy, but it is that dedication that she displayed early on as a cheerleader that has carried her thus far. In fact, throughout the peak of the symptoms of the disease, Megan scored a higher SAT score than I could have ever dreamed of, started a new school, and she’s taking all honors classes. Of course, she will be envious of Caroline on a higher level team tomorrow, but no matter how the jackets fall, she is a champion in her own right.
All this to say, NCA weekend 2013 will not be easy. To be honest, no NCA weekend is ever easy. Even I will get jealous of both Caroline and Megan with their fit and tan little bodies in their super cute little uniforms. The main reason I wrote this post was to remind myself not to compare my journey to theirs — and to remind them not to compare their journeys to mine or the other’s. Tomorrow, we will support each other — with fierce passion for the sport and with tender sisterly compassion for each others’ sensitive hearts. It’s a fine line to walk, but when it’s the three of us, there are few things we can’t conquer.