To the Awkward Teenager Who Wanted to be a Cheerleader:
You made it!
I have no memory of trying out for the doomed cheerleading squad at our ultra-conservative, Christian boarding school with you. I don’t doubt we did, but I wager I was there for you. It was something you wanted. It was a sports-related activity for which you felt qualified and, as you pointed out in recent years, that was important in our community.
You are correct, of course.
Accomplishment in our academic bubble rarely had anything to do with academics and everything to do with athletics.
You were the academic.
I was the athlete.
More often than not, you were there on the sidelines cheering me on, even though the distinctly American, untranslatable to third-world ideals, squad of school cheerleaders had long since been disbanded. I saw you at basketball games, field hockey games, and even my track meets.
What you may not realize is, at the time and for many years after, my entire identity — the singular status to which my personal pride was attached — was the super athlete. I was THAT athlete from first grade all the way through high school. Faster than any boy. Stronger than most. Somewhere in there, I morphed from muddy tomboy to the hot chick — though I still felt like the muddy tomboy. It was just my thing.
It was my only thing. And then it was gone.
You know that picture Hollywood always paints of the fat, former football quarterback standing in the corner of the class reunion cracking stupid jokes and being mocked because he never became the great CEO and works as a garbage man instead? Or some such version of said story? Yeah. That’s how I feel.
It’s dumb. I’ve known for years I need to shake it. Deep down, I know I have more fascinating qualities than my former athleticism. But I’m stuck anyway.
And you are exquisite.
Somewhere along our adult journey, we switched places. You discovered academia and athletics are not mutually exclusive and you began to take your brain with you on run after run after run — all over the world. You have excelled in life to a level for which I am honored to know you, trust in you, and still call you friend.
Excuse the sports metaphor, but you have lapped me over and over again.
But you didn’t leave me behind when it would have been easy to do so.
With each lap, you have circled back around and lifted me up with words of encouragement which, in truth, have kept me putting one fat foot in front of the other for the last twenty-five years in this marathon of my life:
“Dreams are wonderful things. Go get it!”
“You are so amazing and the hero of your own life. I know your challenges are great.”
“To me, you are still that indomitable kid that showed me the ropes and tackled all the boys and ran like the wind. You always will be.”
I called you my cheerleader once before. “What’s not to cheer?” you responded without hesitation. So casual. So confident. So all-encompassing and with zero judgment.
You once told me I am one of the strongest women you know, but every one of us needs a cheerleader and you are mine.
I know you were disappointed that day, so many years ago, when the hope of becoming a school cheerleader was dashed. I also know you are too strong a woman today to dwell on it, but the sting of teenage discouragement has a way of following us around in one form or another.
But, you did make it! You are a life cheerleader on par with the crazy, daring, competitive athletes who elevate cheerleading far beyond the pseudo-choreographed homecoming performances of the squad you idolized in junior high. You are incomparable.
Thank you for being the base of the pyramid when I am doing well.
Thank you for picking me back up when others around me let me fall.
Thank you for showing me that learning a new routine is not the end.
Most of all, thank you for being a life teammate and friend.
“Everywhere we go (echo)
People always ask us (echo)
Who we are (echo)
And where do we come from (echo)
We always tell them (echo)
We are the buffaloes (echo)
WE COME FROM THE FOREST (echo)
And if they can’t hear us (echo)
We shout a little louder!”
I love you.
Note: This letter was originally published on April 9, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage.