Torch challenge: jumping into cheerleading

Anya Eydelman, Editor-at-Large

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Editor-at-Large Anya Eydelman (left) and her sister, sophomore Ilana Eydelman, work on handstands at a cheer practice. Anya found the experience to be both challenging and rewarding. Photo By Richard Chu

I would not call myself athletic. Yes, I can run a certain distance without getting too tired or if no one is in my way, I can evenkicka soccer ball into a goal. While I struggle to keep up in sports, my sister, sophomore Ilana Eydelman, has always excelled. Growing up, my parents made one mistake: signing Ilana and me up for sports together. The two of us tried judo, rhythmic gymnastics, soccer, figure skating and track. The kicker is Ilana always ended up placing in competitions or moving up a level, whereasI would either kindly be asked to leave or would remain on the same level for years.

Entering high school, I figured Ilana and I would never have to compete in a sport together. That was until I tried athletics with Ilana again for this column. This time, though, I tried cheerleading. 

While attending a couple of varsity cheerleading practices, I felt vulnerable doing a new sport with Ilana, given our competitive history. The thought of her beaming in my face as she did a handspring tuck in the air while I tottered with my agonizing somersault on the ground was dreadful. 

Since childhood, there has been a concealed part of me that envied Ilana for her athletic abilities.

The first item on the cheerleaders’ agenda was a 30-minute warm-up. As the team nonchalantly stretched through several straddles, splits and lunges, I struggled to keep a straight face while experiencing a burning sensation in every single muscle in my leg. Every few seconds, I would cast a quick “everything is fine” smile at Ilana in an attempt to prove my strength.

Little did I know the most difficult challenge was yet to come: jumps. The significance of counts and unity in cheerleading is something I learned the hard way. During the daily jumping routine, counting in unison, the cheerleaders around me clapped on one count, sprung into the air the next, then touched their toes and landed on the ground with the sound of over 20 feet thudding. I, on the other hand, managed to mess up every single hurdler, pike and toe touch: jumping while others landed, clapping while the rest were already in the air and hating myself when I turned to see Ilana burst into laughter. 

In contrast to Ilana’s reaction, the rest of the cheerleading team was extremely supportive, clapping and cheering me on as I ungracefully imitated their movements. After understanding the team dynamic, my envy towards Ilana became centered around her experience: I had never seen a team so kind towards one another. 

Finally, the practice transitioned to stunts. Ilana and I were put in the same stunt group. My palms sweat as I cupped them in just the right position for the flyer’s foot, holding her in the air with Ilana and the back spot, knowing that in that moment, the flyer’s life was literally in my hands.

During this stunt, Ilana comforted me, directing me into the correct stance, assuring me that I was fully capable. I realized I was being immature by holding this bitterness towards Ilana, when really, I was experiencing a role reversalby looking up to myyounger sister.

Finally transitioning my gaze back to eye level after focusing on the flyer’s balance, I was touched to seeIlanasmiling at me.

Looking back at the practices, I had to swallow my pride and commend my sister and the rest of her teammates. Trying cheerleading with my sister was different from other sports because it wasn’t about individual performance. Because cheerleading depends heavily on trust, I looked through better a new lens of athleticism with my sister.

Was I able to show off at practice and prove my athleticism to Ilana? Absolutely not. But I realized that doesn’t matter. 

Although I will never come close to being as great of a cheerleader as the girls on the team, I became a cheerleader during my time spent with them, a cheerleader for the cheerleaders, especially my sister. Respect. 

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