Bring it on: NHS cheerleader Lyza Saunders shares her motivations behind the teams’ state win

Bring it on: NHS cheerleader Lyza Saunders shares her motivations behind the teams state win

Nina Scroggin and Caitlin Hall

   Popcorn is littered in the stands. Students create hand-made signs, desperate to outshine the opposing team and cheer the Millers to victory. Parents scold referees, fearful that one mistake could make or break the game. People file in, squirming to get the seats closest to the action. Little do fans know, the real show is found in the spirit and chaos provided by the fan-base. And the Miller cheerleaders get front row tickets. 

     Despite the overwhelming energy, junior cheerleader Lyza Saunders wouldn’t have it any other way. 

     Saunders has spent eleven of her sixteen years in the cheerleading industry. She has developed such a fondness for the sport that she has chosen to cheer at a competitive level outside of school. Juggling both school and competitive cheerleading leaves Saunders’ with a schedule consisting of quite literally eating, sleeping, and cheering. 

     With intense practice, Saunders made the decision to push her love of cheer even farther by trying out for the Lady Jags, a competitive cheer team based out of Miami, Florida. And since cheerleading is a highly competitive sport, it takes a special person to get recognized. Saunders was able to do just that.

     “I had made one of the best teams you could be on in the competitive cheer industry…I had my mind set on going to be on my dream team,” Saunders said.

     However, Saunders’ plan of packing her bags and moving to Miami came to a life-altering halt during her last practice with her Indiana cheer squad. 

     “When I was doing my last pass of the night I ‘rolled’ my ankle…when it came to the point where it wouldn’t move and I couldn’t walk, we decided it was time to go to the emergency room,” Saunders said. 

      Assuming that it was just a sprained ankle, Saunders remained determined in her plans to move to Miami. Unfortunately, the doctors did not have the same idea in mind. 

     “I found out I had a major sprain, and I was to sit out of cheer for eight weeks. I was in shock that my dream had been taken away from me that quickly,” Saunders said. 

     And with that diagnosis, Saunders’ long road to recovery had begun.

     Saunders spent eight weeks of personal training working to gain strength and movement back into her ankle. 

     “Once I was allowed to go back to cheerleading practices, it took about a month and a half to get all my skills back, trying not to re-injure myself and also get my strength back,” Saunders said. 

     While the major sprain was evidently physically tolling, Saunders said it also provoked some mental stress in her. Trying to stay motivated to participate in cheerleading was a struggle, as Saunders’ life was turned upside down. 

     “When I found out that I couldn’t go to Florida, it was very difficult for me to decide if I wanted to go back to both competition and school cheer knowing that I wasn’t going to be 100 percent back to normal for a while,” Saunders said. 

     Despite her worries, Saunders’ team played a large role in getting her back up on her feet and persisting. Cheer serves as an outlet for Saunders to spend time with her friends, as her teammates have always been significant figures within her life.

     “The idea of bettering myself and my team is what drives me. Cheer always makes me so happy even when it might be a bad practice or even if I had a bad day. Cheer makes me feel good about myself,” Saunders said, “My team drives me to keep cheering because they’ve all turned into not only my friends but my family.”

     Both Saunders’s school and competitive cheer teams have provided her with an immense amount of support, allowing her to maintain the strength and insurance she needs to keep cheering.

     “My teams have shown me nothing but support. They are some of the most hardworking and best cheerleaders I’ve ever gotten the chance to be on a team with,” Saunders said. “They keep me going.”

     While Saunders’s teams have served as a significant support system, her NHS cheer coaches, Ali Beaver and Crystal Scott have encouraged her to push past the limits of her injury.

     “I understand that having one bad day doesn’t mean I’m a bad athlete. My coaches push me to show that they haven’t given up on me, not that they are disappointed,” Saunders said.

     With the help of both her teammates and coaches, Saunders has been able to greatly improve her mentality throughout recovery. 

     “The thought that everything is happening for a reason reminds me that it won’t be the end of the world if there are a few bumps in the road,” Saunders said. “Both my school coaches, Crystal and Ali, as well as my competitive cheer coaches have never stopped believing in me and pushing me to be as great as they know I can be.” 

     Such reminders helped Saunders cheer on her beloved spirit sisters during their state finalist competition in November. The Noblesville cheerleaders swept the competition and won their fifth Indiana championship. Despite the fact that Saunders was unable to compete, she was able to be her teammates’ biggest cheerleader from the sidelines.

     “Winning state made me realize that going back to cheer was all worth it and that hard work pays off. It was and will always be one of the proudest moments in my life,” Saunders said.

     Even though Saunders wasn’t able to follow the path she had planned for herself, her newly acquired mentality has allowed her to find herself accepting that life will always take the right course if she just stays patient. 

     “It’s not over until you let it be. Even when you think that something is ruined just because the universe threw something at you doesn’t mean you wont get a second chance,” Saunders said. “Everything always gets better. It just takes time.”

     Whether you find Saunders cheering on her friends during a school game or using her spirit to rally up her competitive squad, she will always be more than her injury. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.  

     “…cheer is my safe place. It makes me the happiest and I’m not ready to give that up,” Saunders said.