Celebrating Cheerleaders and Our Need for Them

This past week was the 113th anniversary of cheerleading, which according to the Writer’s Almanac, made its debut at the University of Minnesota in 1898.  All male pep clubs had been around before that, but it took a desperate need to raise team spirits after three consecutive loses for the university to nominate a group of “yell leaders” to further involve spectators.

Twenty-first century sophisticates often make fun of cheerleaders as though the activity were a frivolous activity. But the team won that day over a hundred years ago, and many teams have won since, through the support of cheering enthusiastic fans and dances and fight songs.

My daughter was a cheerleader in high school, and later in life, a physical therapist. And since becoming discouraged or losing heart doesn’t just happens to sports teams, she found being a cheerleader an important part of her job as a physical therapist. Her patients, by the time they got to her, had experienced an accident, injury, or surgery from which they needed to recover. And physical therapists don’t give out magic pills. They administer exercises and routines that need to be repeated on a regular basis. It takes actual physical work to accomplish one’s recovery, and the therapists’ job is one of encouragement and motivation. Even after the treatment phase finishes, the patient may need to motivate themselves to continue a version of the exercises on a regular basis in order to prevent a relapse. 

In spite of the fact that doctors and health care providers must rely on patients to carry out their treatment plans, (follow through on referrals for tests, take medicine as prescribed) many don’t see cheerleading as a part of their job descriptions. In the several years I was in and out of different doctors’ offices and health care systems with my daughter, we found too few who supported and encouraged. Some expressed a concern about giving “false hope,” others seemed determined to be brutally honest. But like the sports teams who rely on cheerleaders and their fans to lift their spirits, we tried, whenever possible, to hang out with the members of the medical team who said, in the midst of three defeats, and the final game left to be played,  “You Go Girl! You can do it! Rah, Rah, Rah!    


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