I first thought cheerleading for the Tiger-Cats would be similar to a part-time job in terms of time management. There would be specified hours of duty separate from my day-to-day existence. But as football season moves along, I'm surprised at how being part of the team has permeated other areas of my life.
Things I didn't expect to get by virtue of being a cheerleader include:
- Free physiotherapy
- A customized pole-dancing class
- A blind date
And what do these three things have in common? I was scared that each of them would be painful. And I was right about two of the three …
I met our physiotherapist, Dave, in the change room before one of our first games. He sets up in a separate area equipped with a cushioned bed you'd see in a doctor's office. I initially assumed he was there for minor issues like pulled muscles or taping feet. It wasn't until I saw tiny needles sticking out of Lauren's leg one day that I realized Dave meant business. Acupuncture is not something I associated with the back of the change room at Ivor Wynne.
"So how did you become the Ticat cheerleaders' physiotherapist?" I asked him.
"I've known Lesley's brother for a long time, so I used to help her [when she cheered for the Argos] and when she started coaching Ticats I offered to help. She wanted someone who wasn't too creepy, you know?"
So since Dave isn't too creepy, I asked him to help me with my posture. He looked at my stance and told me my back scares him because of how severely I hunch forward. Dave gave me some exercises to do in my own time, and then proceeded to use three long (and strong) pieces of tape to secure my shoulders back into a normal position.
When I returned to the communal area, Megan told me she'd had her back taped last season.
"It worked really well, but make sure you soak it in water later because the tape took a layer of my skin off."
Now this piece of information had me a little worried.
Luckily, I returned home to find my sister had arrived only hours before from Vancouver. I enlisted her help and she slowly, painfully peeled the tape from my back. The fact that she laughed the entire time because my spray tan was coming off with the adhesive made the situation slightly easier to bear.
I rate that experience a six on the pain scale. For my purposes, zero will be no pain at all and 10 will be what it felt like to have appendicitis.
Potentially damaging situation number two was the pole dancing class. One of my cheermates teaches pole dancing as one of her six(!) jobs. She suggested the team come for a special lesson, since we hadn't spent much time together outside of practice yet.
This cheerleader, who is the most unassuming, sweetest girl on the team, would not have been my first guess as Pole Dancing Queen. When she suggested the idea to the group, she ended it with: "Don't worry, it's not gross or anything."
The way she said it reminded me of the way I find myself defending cheerleading. Certain images about pole dancing come to mind, but the people who take the activities seriously genuinely enjoy what they're doing. Many of the women in her class are middle-aged, and they talk about how much the classes have helped their confidence, and what a great fitness outlet it is for them.
And I can attest to the fitness aspect. I don't consider myself to be wildly out of shape, but I'm pretty sure I pulled every arm muscle in my body during the hour and a half lesson. Much worse than that was the injury I sustained on a particularly enthusiastic swing around the pole. I showed off the raw skin on my wrist (which later turned into a nickel-sized scab).
"Oooh, that's bad," my cheermate said. "One time I got pole-burn all down my stomach after a Level 3 class."
I will be sticking to Levels 1 and 2. And I rate the wound — combined with the look on people's faces when I told them it was 'pole-burn' — a 7.5 on my pain scale.
Finally: the blind date. My friend Lea sent out a mass email to all the girls on the team. It went something like this:
"You know how once you're a cheerleader everyone asks you, 'so when are you going to hook me up with your cheerleader friends?'…Well, he didn't do that, so I offered."
When I saw Lea at our next game, I overheard her talking to the other girls about how no one had responded to the email. I walked over, shrugged and said I was up for it.
And so I had a pleasant dinner with a genuinely nice guy. Totally painless.
Turns out there are more perks to being a cheerleader than I thought.