High-Flying Cheerleaders Risk Injury

By Monique Vega
Staff Writer

Senior Rebecca Rodriguez has been a Bishop Amat cheerleader for the past three years.

On her first day of practice three years ago, her coaches told her that she would be a flyer. A flyer is a light cheerleader who gets tossed into the air for stunts.

She flipped out.

She was really scared of heights, which made her even more nervous.

“Before being a flyer I was afraid of heights and I would be afraid to look down from parking structures,” she said. “Now it is not a problem.”

Then she fell.

“I was doing a stunt, and the base (the side girls) weren’t there to catch me, so I landed on my foot,” she said. “Kira (Au, the former athletic trainer) rushed and took a look. My mom came to pick me up and she rushed me to the hospital.”

It turned out that Rodriguez had suffered a broken ankle.

Her injury, although severe, isn’t rare in cheerleading.

“While every precaution is taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, unfortunately, accidents do occur,” said cheer adviser Ms. Anice Bradley has been coaching at Amat since 1998. “We have ankle and wrist sprains and strains, elbow and shoulder dislocations, broken arms and ankles and ACL tears.”

But she stated that everything is “risky” because life is a risk.

“If you get out of bed in the morning, something bad could happen,” Ms. Bradley said. “But it is a risk you are willing to take.”

She recalled a time at her previous school when one of her cheerleaders broke her arm after tripping on her own shoelace.

“I can still recall my words to this day. ‘Mrs. —, Ashley broke her arm. Not because she was practicing, but because she tripped over her shoelace,’” Ms. Bradley said.

For Ms. Bradley, as long as the ladies do everything in their power to reduce the possibility for an accident to occur, then that is all that she can ask of them.

Ms. Bradley said the question is whether you are willing to take the risk and to what extent.

There are many things that cheerleaders do to stay safe.

“We stretch out and condition so we don’t pull muscles and it prevents injuries,” senior Brittney Hauer said. “We learn proper techniques in stunting so we don’t hurt ourselves. We also practice on mats so we don’t get hurt.”

The most dangerous part of cheerleading is when girls are 10 feet in the air performing a stunt.

Haur said there are several precautions cheerleaders take when holding a girl up in a stunt. Usually, the flyers have two bases and a back spot. Sometimes they have a front spot.

This is done to make the flyer comfortable and capable of performing her tricks well.

Besides using mats there are other techniques to try and be safe.

“We have coaches who are certified to perform or coach CPR and first aid if necessary,” said Ms. Bradley. “In addition, the girls are never allowed to perform a stunt without supervision.”

When girls are thrown up in the air Ms. Bradley is confident that her ladies know what to do even if something goes wrong.

Despite all the precautions, events don’t always go as planned.

Take Rodriguez’s broken ankle as an example.

But several cheerleaders said Rodriguez’s injury wasn’t the worst they’ve seen.

Rodriguez said she saw a YouTube clip of a girl dying at a competition. After being tossed in the air, she died from shock due to heart problems.

While some are traumatized and never want to go back to performing stunts, Rodriguez wanted to continue to perform.

Still, the girls at Amat said they would not give up cheer for any major injury.

“I have always been a cheerleader my whole life and I wanted the whole high school experience,” said Haur. “I wanted to cheer at varsity games and cheer at varsity level for competition. Just to be a part of the Amat family is just a great experience. It is a part of me—I live for it.”