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WNCAA: ‘All the bruises, scars, and tears will finally pay off’

  • By YOU.PH
  • March 11, 2024
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  • 2405 Views

Cheer leaders share why they are in a life-changing moment

Jam Ampatuan:

On Sept. 15, 2023, I was waiting for my best friend to finish training. To my surprise, their coach asked me to join their training session, even if I was in big white crocs, flare pants, and oversized shirt. With enough persuasion by her and the team, I decided to try it out.

I’m not really big on gymnastics, nor did I participate in cheerleading; I mean, school intramurals, yes, but in my opinion, I didn’t really put in much effort. This was different. Beyond all things, I was scared; thoughts in my head started to turn into imagery—What if I fell headfirst? What if I broke my neck? What if I couldn’t do their training?

Working out has always been part of my routine every once in a while, but I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the most fit. I was just bone, no fat.

I started to go to their gymnastics training every Friday until I was finally called to meet their main coach. This terrified me—I wasn’t big on meeting expectations; hell, this wasn’t even part of my plan, but I decided to go for it nonetheless.

The first Monday training I went to, I failed to do some of their workouts, and I was embarrassed \because I looked weak. One thing about me that I always hated was the inability to show vulnerability in every aspect you can think of; this was one of them. However, I wanted to commit, and this was unlike me because in every sport I would get into, I’d get sick of it in a minute.

I continued and fought whatever weakness I had to strengthen myself more until I finally got added to the varsity group chat. The feeling made me feel accomplished and giggly, but I knew I was still far from it. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. This gave me the motivation to exceed my limit, to keep going, and to never stop. In the process, I met these wonderful girls. I could be quite a handful since I was a rookie, but they pushed me in the best way possible.

In entering this field, I felt like a baby but not spoon-fed. I knew nothing except for dancing and a crooked cartwheel even I was scared to try. Coaches Ajie, Manny, and Mhong have been so helpful in this journey. I never had a role model in sports to look up to, not only in skills but also in values, until I met them. They value the family and lifestyle, which I admire. They took care of me when I really needed it, and made me feel like I was excelling even as I felt trying. 

Where do I even begin with the girls; they may not know how much they’ve helped me. Before all this, my life had no color. Doubt filled me. Feeling the pressure of going to college, I didn’t know who I was or what I would be. During training, I try my best to be as hyper and jolly as I can be because that’s who I am. I share what energy I have left in me, but what sets them apart from any other team is that they notice. They notice when I’m all out. I’ve been in other teams in my previous sports, but my current team mates, this time, notice what even the most hyper, talkative, annoying, and insufferable teammate is going through. They make me happy. I finally feel safe around girls I met only five months ago. They saved me during the lowest points in my life even if I don’t talk about it. I no longer felt like a rookie or a newbie, but a part of a strong family. I wouldn’t ask for anybody else to be with me on this journey.

The upcoming competition is nerve-wracking, but exciting as well. I have this hunger for winning because I know how happy it’ll make the team. All the bruises, scars, and tears will finally pay off. The never-ending stretch of smiles will appear on those who usually grit their teeth whenever somebody falls, accepting the pain that comes with the fall.

Cheering is a beautiful thing, but what makes it meaningful is the people around you. For me, it was they. They made me love this sport, and I will forever have no regrets about joining it. I was filled with fear, and I’ve expressed that enough, but now I feel nothing but warmth from a family that I long yearned for. From not knowing how to cartwheel to being able to do a roundoff. It’s not much, I know, but from how I see it now, it is indeed a big step.

Misha Quizon:

Having the opportunity to be the co-captain this year has been nothing short of exhilarating. It has been both a rewarding and challenging experience, yet I can say that it has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined, and tested me both as an athlete and as a leader. Though the idea of being the co-captain on my second year in the team was exciting, it was daunting to feel the pressure and weight of responsibility.

One of the biggest challenges was managing the responsibilities that come with being a captain, while also trying to earn credibility and respect from a team of rookies that were almost all older and more experienced than I. Despite the initial challenges that I’ve faced as a young captain, my time in the team has taught me not only to be a better leader, but also to be a better listener, to push my limits and to strive to achieve. I’ve learned that challenges exist to be conquered, and I will forever be grateful that I’ve had the support of my teammates along the way.

As our competition approaches, I can say without doubt that I am part of something bigger than myself. Throughout our season, I’ve witnessed the undeniable dedication, relentlessness and unity of our team that binds us together as a family, both on and off the mat. We have all been able to motivate each other, push each other, grow together, and draw strength from one another. Win or lose, our team’s spirit and bond will extend far beyond our routine. 

Julia Glinofria:

 Transitioning from a high school cheer team to a college cheer team as a Grade 11 student was a whirlwind experience. At first, I felt a sense of emptiness as I missed my high school teammates, but this void was swiftly filled by my college teammates, the UA&P Firestarters. Joining this team instilled in me a profound sense of belonging and support, as they welcomed me into their cheer family with open arms.

I remember when I tried out for the team, I got culture shock. Everything, from the dynamic of our relationships to the level of discipline, training schedules, and techniques, felt entirely different.

Going from a big team to a small team presented new perspectives and adjustments. In high school teams, the discipline demanded of athletes seemed stricter, likely because we were younger and still in the process of learning and growing. The discipline within our team leaned more towards independence, reflecting the expectations of the maturity of college students. No more parent group chats, here we depended solely on each other.

Our training schedule, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, initially felt daunting. Adjusting to this rigorous routine was challenging, especially for someone like me who’s a sleepyhead. However, with time, I adjusted, appreciating the structured schedule that also allowed me to have time for myself, academics, hobbies, and time with loved ones. And of course, new team means new coaching techniques. It added to the initial confusion, but I found myself quickly adjusting and embracing the change.

Entering the college team, I grappled with self-doubt, an inevitable and common experience in cheerleading. I had set high expectations for myself, assuming my coaches and teammates expected the same. However, I soon realized that these expectations had been self-imposed, and I found comfort in the unwavering support and appreciation of my coach and teammates. Together, we became each other’s cheerleader, fostering a culture of mutual encouragement and support.

The feeling of pressure is inevitable, and that’s mostly what I felt for myself in my first year as a Firestarter. The pressure of achieving my target skills, preventing injuries, keeping up with my academic responsibilities, and the personal standards that I set for myself, felt overwhelming at times. However, I learned to view this pressure as a catalyst for growth, channeling it into motivation to improve myself. The supportive environment provided by my teammates played a crucial role in helping me cope with stress and pressure.

One of the greatest advantages of being part of a small team is the close-knit bond of members. I cherish the friendships I have with each of my teammates. I feel emotionally attached to everyone and I know that it will be difficult to bid farewell to our departing seniors.

Being a cheerleader of the UA&P Firestarters has been both challenging and rewarding. In this team, I found my best friends in the university and learned invaluable life lessons that extend beyond the mats. It’s also where I can express myself fully, shaping me into the person I am today.

As competition season approaches, I am reminded of the reasons I started with this sport and why I am doing this. I believe in my team’s collective ability to succeed. With unwavering support and camaraderie, I am confident that together, we will bring home the gold.

Erliana Bulanadi:

I used to be a member of the Philippine National Team of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. Our day-to-day schedule consisted of a minimum of five hours of rigid training, school, and therapy. My whole life, for 11 years, revolved around gymnastics. That’s why I promised myself that by the time I reached college, I would venture out and explore the world outside of sports.

College applications came, and I was recruited by various cheerleading teams. I attended tryouts here and there, and I honestly thought that cheerleading was not meant for me. But then, as soon as I stepped into UA&P, I felt a breeze of fresh air—a relaxed, calm, and welcoming environment. This feeling was so unfamiliar because I was used to being stressed, pressured, and alone. UA&P let me have the best of both worlds: school and sports. I had a family that I could count on and a university that would help me excel academically. From that moment on, I was home. 

Shifting from gymnastics to cheerleading was somewhat easy because I already had the physical foundation for this sport. I had to relearn some skills that I had trauma with and it felt good to do it again without any worry.

Overall, the Firestarters helped me learn to work with a team, perform with joy in my heart, and love the sport I used to hate. I am so excited for my first-ever WNCAA Cheerleading Competition. We have all worked so hard for this event and I hope that it will be worthwhile. I am Erliana Bulanadi, a member of the UA&P Firestarters.

ALYSSA ALCRUZ: 

I’m Alyssa Mae Alcruz, I’m a 1st year college student at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and I am a UA&P Firestarter. 

My interest in being a cheerleader started at age 5. I was sitting in front of the TV and I changed the channel accidentally and the movie Bring It On was showing, I sat and watched the entire movie and after, I told my mom that I wanted to be a cheerleader. My parents were very supportive of me, because this was the first time I found a sport that I really wanted to pursue. However, my dream of becoming a cheerleader didn’t come true just yet. 

My parents decided to enroll me in gymnastics considering my age at that time, and at first I didn’t agree. It took a while for me to finally agree and give it a try; it was intimidating at first glance, and it was different from what I really wanted to do. In the end I gave it a try, because they told me that everything that I would gain would pay off when the opportunity of becoming a cheerleader would come, and it definitely did. 

I became an artistic gymnast for four years, starting at age seven, and not only did this make me gain skills, but it also enabled me to break out of my shell, and to gain more confidence. However, the sport also made me feel lonely at times, and I knew that there was something I was still seeking for, I just didn’t know what it was.

My cheerleading journey finally started at age 10. In the summer of 2015, the San Beda College Alabang Junior Varsity Squad (SBCAJVS), announced that they will be allowing girls in the grade school department to join their training, and this made me super excited because this was the opportunity I was waiting for. I did not think twice about my decision and showed up early and ready for what would come my way. On that day, I met coach Ajjie, and I met the team members at the time, and I knew that this was what I wanted to be a part of. 

After summer training, tryouts officially opened in the San Beda College Alabang Midgets Varsity Squad (SBCAMVS). I tried out, gave my best, and with everything I’ve learned from being a gymnast, it definitely paid off. I got in, and this was where I finally closed the door on being a gymnast, and opened a new one to become a cheerleader. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. 

For someone who wasn’t that academically excellent, cheerleading in my grade school days inspired me to strive harder and put in more time and effort into my studies. During my first year, I gained so many friends, and really felt the sisterhood that I never experienced. I was happy and deeply felt like this was where I belonged. 

A big part of my cheerleading career is my coach, Ajjie Mendelebar. From the start, I knew I wanted to be part of his program, because of how passionate he was for the sport. He was intimidating, and he was strict, but I knew that he was someone I needed in my life to shape me to be the person I wanted to be, in and out of the mats. With his trust, he made me the captain of the SBCAMVS in the school year 2016-2017, and also made me the captain of the SBCAJVS on my graduating year of high school (2022-2023). Moreover, even though I’ve been through so much with coach Ajjie, I knew I wanted more. And this was why I chose to be a UA&P Firestarter. 

Being a UA&P Firestarter made me not only grow as a cheerleader, but also made me realize that there is still so much for me to learn, regardless of the years of experience. More importantly, I found not only a team I knew I belonged in, I found a family. A family who cares for one another, and who would do anything for each other. Later I realized that the gap I had was filled, with love and true sisterhood. 

As WNCAA is fast approaching, I have full trust in my teammates that we will give a great performance on competition day. But regardless of the results, because of all the learnings and friendships gained this season, I already know that I won. 

ANGELINE GRAGASIN:

This year, the UA&P Firestarters are competing in the 54th Season of the WNCAA Cheerleading Competition with an almost all-rookie team. Our team started with only two members after our season last year. There were uncertainties, worries and doubts. Are we able to gather enough people to compete? Can we find people with the grit and talent to stay in the team? And the big Q, can we defend our championship?

These are just some of the questions lingering in my head at the start of the year. I tried my best to be optimistic and to make sure that I can do my job as captain. I was nervous and excited, to say the least. Having this big responsibility and opportunity, I knew I had to give all that I got. 

It is now my last year in the university, also my last year of competing. I started as member of the Firestarters in my freshman year. I remember it vividly, it was at the start of pandemic, and I really tried to be positive thinking that everything would go back to normal soon. After two years, the 53rd season of the WNCAA kicked off and I got to compete as cheerleader. Now, one might ask, “What got me here?”

I was a gymnast for six years in my elementary to high school years. I also did different dance genres such as hiphop, contemporary, and jazz. Entering the university in my freshman year, I was looking for an opportunity to use my skills and background in gymnastics and dance, and there I found the UA&P Firestarters. For two years, we trained and did our activities online. Imagine the delight I felt when on my 3rd year, face-to-face classes resumed and I got to finally train with the team.

But then, I went in and I felt like a complete rookie. I was in the team for three years, but this was the first time I got to train with them in person and I felt like I had a lot of skills to relearn and learn. However, Coach Ajjie was very helpful in making me love cheerdance and cheerleading. The trainings and the team made me realize once again the love and comfort tI felt as an athlete. Being back on the mats and winning as the champion for the 53rd season of WNCAA, fueled the fire in me. Finally, there is an avenue for me to play with others and show them the skills and artistry that we have. 

BUT —

I wanted more. I felt ambitious. I was hungry to prove that the team can do more. But having only two members, what do we do now? Me and my co-captain did all we can to market the team to incoming freshmen and students. We would prepare our booth during our open houses and we would do our best to recruit the girls who will be with us for the year. We started hoping, wishing to complete and fill in the slots that we have in the team.

I knew that it was not luck, but timing and destiny that aligned with our ambition. The school year started and everything fell into place. 

Now, here we are with 12 amazing ladies, completing a perfect puzzle piece. With a perfect combination of cheerleaders from their previous high schools, gymnasts, dancers and girls who are willing to learn and improve. With the dedication to train several times a week and the willingness to learn new skills, the team prepared for performances and now, the WNCAA. 

As the captain, I wanted people to know that the team’s skills were honed by their own eagerness to improve and that I was just a pillar in their journey. I wanted them to feel that the team is a welcoming family and a supportive platform for them to express themselves and their love of the sport. Talking to the girls, I always told them that I am not the best dancer, the best tumbler, or the best base, but they collectively are the reason I am the captain that I am now. I learned from my girls. We learned from each other. The team became a close knit of supportive women with the same ambition and goal equipped with the same desire to influence others positively. 

As we enter this season, I would like to look back at the fruitful year that we had. We had ups and downs in our journey but I am grateful for all of them as it made us the team that we are today. We were molded to be the athletes that we are today. We are letting the 54th Season of the WNCAA to be our stage to show them who we are — rookies, seniors, dancers, gymnasts, and WOMEN with the love for Cheerleading and love for each other. 

Now, I am not uncertain anymore. I am steady. I am sure. I walk with the girls and the UA&P Community and I am certain that this team is going to do their best to give everyone a great show and to let each and everyone appreciate the sport. I speak with the spirit of UNITAS —we are here together to show that we will bring everything we’ve got, shouting our lungs off, bleeding RED AND GOLD. 

Main photo by Mazo

Support the UA&P Firestarters as they defend their Senior Division Cheerleading Championship trophy in the 54th WNCAA Cheerleading Competition on March 17th, 2024 Sunday at Chiang Kai Shek College. The competition starts at 11 am.

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