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1st March 2012

Player Profile: Jessica Rachwal

University of Manchester Cheerleader

How did you get into cheerleading?
Well throughout first and second year at University I always wanted to do cheerleading but none of my friends wanted to. They played other sports like Rugby League and Netball, which are apparently ‘real sports’ compared to cheerleading something I will always challenge them on! Anyway then last year I went to Texas in my year in Industry and wanted to join over there but I couldn’t as wasn’t an official student because I was working at the labs. So when I came back to England I didn’t want to miss my last student opportunity to finally become a cheerleader so made sure I signed up during Fresher’s week!

What is it like being part of the Manchester Squad?
It’s very social and such nice people are in the squad; they were really welcoming and are always on the lookout for the next great cheerleader so get down to training! We do take training seriously as its three 2 hour sessions every week, so we put the work in and train a lot more than many of the other sports teams at the Uni.

What do you focus on in each training session?
In each session we warm up for 20 minutes which usually involves a jog and then we fully stretch mainly focusing on the legs for the flexible jumps and wrists for the stunts and lifting. For the last few months we have been practicing a routine over and over as we were preparing for a tournament in Loughborough where there were 15 University in our pool. To train for that the weekly sessions were split into two, in first half we practiced the ‘stunts,’ so these include the lifts and moves in the air and then the second half we looked at the dance sections.

What was it like competing in your first tournament in Loughborough?
It was very exciting and competitive but not in a bitchy way as portrayed in films like ‘Bring it on,’ etc. Everyone was cheering teams on and a lot of the uni’s brought their second teams to maximise the support. It was cool seeing all the different costumes that the other teams had on; some had amazing glitter and big hair. We kept it very professional and didn’t over do it too much, more about our performance than what we look like!

What components make up the Manchester Cheerleading outfit?
Well we all have the same white trainers which were designed for us, and of course they have the purple and proud insole, and then we have to wear white socks with those. We have our short under layer which is called ‘spankies,’ then a skirt which is very short but this is because we have to be able to move freely during jumps and moves. The upper part of the outfit is a high polo neck and then during competition we have to wear a very high pony tail with a purple bow. We definitely have the most purple and proud sports outfit at Uni!

If I decided to come down to a session what cheerleading moves would you teach me?
Ok, well it’s important to know the basics. We would first look at your stance and you would want to be in a ‘clean’ standing position so this means that you have your arms by your side and legs together. This would be whenever you aren’t doing a move; everything needs to be very neat for performance. Then I would show you a ‘high clap,’ so this is used in the chants- lock your hands in a clap position near your mouth with elbows tight together. There is also the high ‘V,’ where you raise your arms above your head at full extension, there is then a low ‘V’ which is it reversed. And if you’re feeling confident then we could have a go at a few jumps so a ‘toe touch’ which is legs out at full extension.

Stereotypically Cheerleaders and their sport are not always cast in a positive light, what is your opinion on this?
I know some people view it as a ‘joke’ sport but it shouldn’t be seen like this. You really need to be fit and have core strength to be able to perform because we have to be able lift the girls and also perform in the air. There are a lot of technical elements to the sport which are very difficult to learn and it combines dance, strength, athleticism, style and gymnastic elements- it’s tough! We had quite a few boys who started at the beginning but had to drop out as they couldn’t keep up the pace.ha. Also I know there’s the whole ‘stupid cheerleader’ image but we are all clever girls at the universities of Manchester; I mean I study bio-chemistry and hope to go into dentistry after. We need to get rid of these silly stereotypes!

Watch out for the Purple and Proud Cheerleaders who will be bringing their cheer to next month’s Christie Cup…

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