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I was a gymnast when I was younger. There was a point in my life when I would head straight to the gym after school, sometimes training up to 16 hours a week. I quit when I was 14. Over the years I dabbled in other sports, but it wasn’t until I went to Leeds for university in 2013 that I finally found a team sport I enjoyed participating in: cheerleading.
It looked amazing, and I thought it would be like Bring It On. I fell in love with it from the day I tried out for the team. Unlike gymnastics, I was only training three or four hours a week. And we were really good. We won competitions, and held national champion titles for several years running.
It made my university experience both fun and rewarding, and as a squad, we were a real family. I met some of my best friends through cheerleading at university, like Grace and Emma. I moved to London after graduation and continued to cheer at a competitive level in various squads. But it was never really the same. A lot of all-star cheerleading teams in the UK are made up of athletes aged between 12 and 30. At university, I started my cheer career as a flyer, the person who stands at the top of the cheer pyramid and is thrown in the air. And I absolutely loved it. But when on a senior team, I sometimes felt a bit out of place competing with kids that are more flexible – plus going on a night out as a team isn’t an option.
I was at a cheerleading competition a week or two before the first national lockdown was announced. One moment we were all dressed up getting ready to perform, and the next thing we know, the country was shutting down. It was really weird. But after that, I suddenly found myself with lots of time on my hands. I was between jobs – and decided to launch a cheerleading team with Emma and Grace, called London Dynasty Cheer.
Straight away, we had to face the facts. Cheerleading is a really expensive sport, and I’ve never been all that great at saving money. I never made my own lunch on weekdays, so I’d spend £6 a day just eating out. And that’s not including the coffees or the breakfasts I’d treat myself to on occasion. Commuting into work from East Croydon took another chunk out of my savings. And I would go out pretty much every weekend.
Lockdown was a bit of a blessing in that regard. We were each able to save £300 a month from not commuting and going out. Meanwhile, the three holidays I had scheduled had all been cancelled, and I was thankfully able to get my money back. By the time June rolled around, we had collectively saved £3,000. It was money we desperately needed if we wanted to make our dream of launching a cheerleading club work.
There were a lot of things we had to think about. I hadn’t done much coaching and the other staff wanted to advance in their qualifications. Collectively, the cheer coaching courses set us back £950. If we wanted to do tumbles, then we’d need to buy an air track, which cost a further £400. Then we had to think about the cost of speakers, first aid courses, hiring a sports hall, insurance and the cost of building a website.
We would never have been able to set the team up if it wasn’t for the money we saved over lockdown. But most importantly, it gave us a lot of time – three months – to think about how we wanted to launch London Dynasty Cheer. We were lucky to get a lot of help from my friends who chipped in to help design the website and our uniforms, bringing the cost down even further.
Each week, Grace, Emma and I would get on Zoom and set each other deadlines and discuss what we had achieved the previous week. One of us took ownership of the Covid-19 hygiene course, for example. And we set up an Instagram profile in anticipation of the launch. As we checked off more tasks from the list, we firmed up a launch date of June 26 – a date when we would do the great reveal.
When restrictions began to ease we all met up outdoors to stage a photoshoot. We had a plan to take a collection of good photos that we would upload to social media on launch day and the weeks ahead. We popped some champagne on the day of launch and officially and got to work.
News of London Dynasty Cheer spread like wildfire. Having each been in the cheer community for several years, we had lots of connections and friends who helped spread the word and received an unbelievable amount of interest. Even before our planned taster session in September, we were already getting sign-ups.
The initial taster session was so over-subscribed that we had to hold three sessions and hire a bigger sports hall to be Covid-compliant. There was always the worry that we would invest in these free taster sessions and people would only come along to give it a go. But 90 people came to try cheerleading with us, and when we officially launched training sessions at the end of the month, nearly 75 of those who turned up then came back for more. They’re all now fully paid members.
As well as the taster sessions, people sent in try-out videos. We have two different teams that athletes can join. An all-star competitive squad composed of those who want to do cheer competitively and another for those who just want to train recreationally. Originally, we had plans to compete in February, but with the second lockdown and us not being able to train, we are now looking at some virtual competitions a bit later in the season.
From the start, we wanted to recreate that university team experience, being more than just a sporting team, but also a support system and social group. Throughout the second lockdown, we’ve made it really clear that we’re here for all our athletes if they want to chat. We’ve organised cheer movie nights and Saturday morning coffee socials and have several WhatsApp groups to keep in touch.
Right now, we’re running free training sessions over Zoom and gearing up for the competition season in July 2021 when teams across the UK would usually come together to perform. Things might be a bit different this season with virtual events, but we are still keen on having a goal to work towards. We’ve had to refund our athletes for the rest of this term, but the small profits we did make and this second lockdown are giving us a chance to save up more money so that we can create our competition cheer music and hopefully buy even more equipment, like tumbling blocks and cheerleading roll mats, for when we can resume training again.
We can’t wait to see what the next year holds and no matter what, we’ll be ready for the glitz, glamour and sparkly bows of cheerleading.
As told to Alex Lee
This article is part of a new WIRED series exploring how people’s lives have been changed by lockdown. Last time we heard from Jasmine who used the extra time to make money by sculpting boobs
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