Have you ever held yourself back from doing something simply because you don’t think you can do it? Or how about (even worse), holding back because you believe others won’t be accepting of you? Or, (the worst), people pass so much judgment that you lose the motivation to even try or are prevented from achieving something meaningful to you, even a dream?
When I was a sophomore at Urbana High School in central Illinois years ago, my friend Courtney wanted to try out for the “Wrestlettes,” the wrestling team’s cheerleaders. “Meg, please try out with me! I don’t want to have to go there by myself!” she begged. I was social and loquacious, Courtney tended to be quieter, at least as compared with me. However, I was beyond reluctant. How could I pull this off? Already at sixteen years old, it is hard to believe, but I had never even worn a pair of sneakers! This was mainly because in those days all “tennis shoes” (the term for sneaker used in the Midwest) were made extremely narrowly, with low sides, and no ankle support. In fact, I had never even bothered trying a pair on; my foot would presumably pop out. The thought of wearing a tennis shoe for cheering? Not a chance. I was close enough to Courtney to explain my rationale for not wanting to try out with her.
As any great friend in my life, she would hear nothing of it. The next thing I knew we were on a bus together to Marketplace Mall in Champaign. After a search, Courtney spotted a new kind of Candies tennis shoe. It actually was the first high-top girl’s tennis shoe I had ever seen! Not knowing my size, I asked the sales clerk for the smallest. “5 ½” she responded. “Great, thanks.” As I slipped my foot into the bright white pair of Candies, I couldn’t help but smile. Admittedly, even the smallest size was a bit too long for my foot, but laced up, I could ensure they remained on my feet, even to jump. I was elated!
That night, I joined Courtney at the high school where we cheered in front of the Wrestlette coach and the two co-captains. In retrospect, shoes aside, I must have really taken them aback. After all, besides looking so physically different, my ability to clap loudly with my two fingers was faint at best. Nonetheless, what I lacked in hand percussion, I more than made up with my loud vocals and positive energy. The next day we learned that Courtney had made the squad, and somehow I was also selected as an alternate. As I walked home from school that day, I couldn’t stop smiling. It took another person’s confidence in me to help me find my own. As the season kicked off, while being on the Wrestlettes was by no means a dream of mine, I immensely enjoyed the experience. I even eventually became a full-blown member of the squad.
This week, I was surfing the internet and quickly became intrigued by the story of Julia Sullivan, age 16. Julia is from Nebraska and was born with incomplete arms and no legs. In the past, despite being bound to a wheelchair, Julia’s strongest desire has been to be a cheerleader. She tried out for her high school’s squad in Nebraska three times, without success. “I love to get the crowd going!” she exclaimed in the story. Despite Julia’s enthusiasm and efforts, her high school squad was unwilling to take a chance on her. But somehow, Julia’s fairy god mother showed up, 800 miles away in Portland, Michigan. Cheerleading coach Linda Fox read about Julia online and became inspired. She later brought Julia’s story to her own squad, who challenged her to “do something.” This past week, chaperoned by her parents to Michigan, Julia, wearing a modified Portland cheerleading uniform, cheered on the sidelines from her chair, and also participated in the final stunt with the rest of the squad.
Julia’s story reminds me that I was lucky to have a good friend like Courtney who would not consider allowing me to hold myself back. I was also incredibly fortunate that the Wrestlettes were willing to embrace me as a human being, rather than simply as a physical being. Mostly, it reminds me that the improbable can still be possible.
Just don’t hold back.