… cheerleader for a day

She will never be a cheerleader … This was one of the first things the doctors told me when they diagnosed Elizabeth with Cerebral Palsy.

She will never talk, never walk. She will never be able to go to school and you need to know she will never be a cheerleader.

As I sat across from this doctor whose job it is to be this brutally honest with me, I wondered why he chose to say she would never be a cheerleader rather than she would never play tennis or run track. I wondered if it was because for Halloween I dressed Elizabeth as a cheerleader while she was still in the NICU … did he feel I needed to know this dream would never come true?

Friday night football runs deep in the south and I think that every little girl dreams of standing on that field watching the players bust through a homemade sign stretched across the goal posts and cheer on their hometown quarterback. At any given football game you will see the elementary girls line the front of the stands cheering along with their mentors in uniform longing for the day that will be them. For Elizabeth, this is not a dream that will come true for her. As a mother of a special needs child you find yourself realizing that accomplishments in life come in very different ways than what you had dreamed of. Cheer try-outs, all night nerves, ponytails and hair bows the size of the moon; crisp white paper posted with your daughters name on it followed by tears and hugs with their newest team mates for us is the anxiousness of a morning surgery and a warm blanket while you watch a nurse change out fluids on an IV. Hair bows are handed to you while her hair is piled up on top of her head and covered with a surgical cap. You gather with friends and family in a room while you wait for a doctor to come tell you that your daughter has made it through surgery. There are tears and hugs of relief and happiness. It is amazing how much our dreams for our daughters have a likeness to them.

It wasn’t long ago that we found ourselves in Little Rock on an overnight visit while Elizabeth made her way through a day of appointments at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. While checking into our hotel I noticed we were surrounded by cheerleaders … lots and lots of cheerleaders! I looked at Elizabeth who was watching the girls as they walked by cheering and clapping their hands with their colorful matching uniforms and perfectly made up hair and faces. I put my hand on top of her head as I do so often to let her know we were thinking the same thing. I knew that Elizabeth was wishing that was her, just as much as I was. We made our way to the elevators where we were met by dozens and dozens of cheerleaders all trying to get to their rooms at the same time. The floors were covered with bags, coolers and pillows … I stayed back and waited for our turn. I noticed a small group of girls look over at us, and then again. Elizabeths patience was wearing thin and she was having no problem letting everyone know this! I noticed one of the girls lean over, talk to a few of her fellow cheerleaders and then I heard her say you can take the next elevator and a path began to clear for us. The girls waited for the next elevator door to open, held it for us and I was left absolutely speechless. As I turned to thank the girls the doors shut and I was unable to make out who these amazing young ladies were. I wanted to do something for them and spent the next day trying to figure out who this cheer team was but just didn’t have any luck finding them. It was close to a week later when I was scrolling through Facebook and there they were … a group picture of the girls from Little Rock! I immediately contacted an old high school friend and it turned out that her daughter was one of the cheerleaders that day in LR. A few emails later we had a date set and Elizabeth was going to have the opportunity to meet this group of girls that I had come to admire without even knowing who they were.

This random act of kindness is so very rare these days. And what makes this that much more admirable is that it came from a group of high school girls. These girls who should be wrapped up in cheer and driving and dating and shopping, they never once hesitated when they saw a need. To those that raised these girls, thank you. Thank you for instilling in them that desire to help others. Thank you for teaching them acceptance and tolerance, thank you for sharing them with Elizabeth.

Yesterday a dream for Elizabeth became a reality. As we walked the hallways of Alma High School I could hear the voices of the girls. We turned a corner and there they all stood … uniforms, white bows and a group of girls that have now become my heroes. Elizabeth knew who they were and as I looked down at her I saw a little girl in a wheelchair become one of her peers. To her she was just like them. The team surprised Elizabeth with a sign they had painted and all autographed for her, a cheer shirt and their mascot, an Airedale. They all sat around Elizabeth as we talked. I wanted them to know who Elizabeth was, I wanted them to know the impact they had on the life of one child and how important it is to accept and include all those in their school and in their community with disabilities. Elizabeth knows when others treat her differently, but she knew these girls were different that they looked beyond the disability and saw a little girl that had dreams of being one of them. Elizabeth was all smiles and could not take her eyes off the girls. She was so excited when the girls performed for her, it was truly amazing how she watched them. We said our goodbyes and promised to come watch the girls cheer at their first game! As we drove out of the school the girls had gathered outside and cheered for Elizabeth as we drove by … it was by far a dream come true for Elizabeth.

To this team, this group of beautiful, selfless young ladies … you are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! And not just because you are cheerleaders, but because you became something so much more that day you held an elevator for a child in a wheelchair and her mother. You became public servants, leaders to those around you. People will pay it forward now because of you, you have started a chain of random acts of kindness that will change the lives of people you will never know. Thank you for allowing Elizabeth to be a part of your team, we are grateful. See you soon!!

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