How I Became an NFL Cheerleader
By Mia Geiger| |March 15, 2012 |
A few years back, Laura Vikmanis felt something was missing from her life. She found what she was looking for on the football field.
At 39, following the breakup of her 16-year marriage, she tried out to become a professional cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ben-Gals squad. She didn’t make it, but she immersed herself in dance and fitness classes and tried out the following year — and this time she made the cut.
“It’s like I’m living my life in reverse,” says Vikmanis, who has two teenage daughters.
Now in her third year as a Ben-Gal, the registered dietitian who was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years continues her reign as the nation’s oldest NFL cheerleader. Her memoir, It’s Not About the Pom-Poms, co-written with Amy Sohn, hits the shelves this month. New Line Cinema bought the film rights to her story.
SecondAct talked with Vikmanis about her transformation.
SA: What spurred you to try out?
LV: I needed to get in touch with myself again. I was like, ‘I could dig myself further into depression [from the divorce] or figure out what makes me happy.’ I said to myself, ‘Dancing — dancing makes me happy.’ I hadn’t danced since before I was married. I had started dancing when I was 3 and then all through my younger years. I thought ‘If I can’t turn back the clock, then I can at least do what I used to do and get some of those feelings back.’
I Googled ‘dance classes for adults.’ Obviously, it came up with all these adult-only websites. One of them was a pole-dancing class. I thought it sounded fun, so I went and ended up meeting a former Ben-Gal. She was like, ‘You dance great; you should totally try out.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you don’t know how old I am.’ She said, ‘It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re over 21.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m way over 21.’
Laura Vikmanis’ Dos and Don’ts for Reinvention:
1. Let your fears go. Fear, either real or imagined, will hold you back from making any progress toward change.
2. Make a plan, but if you get off track, embrace it. Think of plans as fluid guidelines, not rigid rules.
3. Be your own cheerleader. Friends and family are there for us most of the time, but what do you do when no one is available when you need them? You need to be there, with a positive attitude, to help pick yourself up on a bad day.
1. Be afraid of change. Any changes in your life should be looked at as opportunities for growth.
2. Limit your dreams. You may think you know what you want to do or what you want to accomplish, but sometimes as you open your mind more, you find new things to dream about and work toward.
SA: How did tryouts go?
LV: I made it to the finals. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I done? This could really be happening.’ When I went to the finals, I didn’t make it, but after seeing what the Ben-Gals did with their community service and the camaraderie of the girls and how everyone was there to dance, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I had a mission: to get on the Ben-Gals.
SA: It must have been intimidating competing against women in their 20s.
LV: When I walked in and saw how young all the girls were…I definitely felt old, but then when we were dancing, I was like, ‘This is so much fun.’ I felt like I was home. I felt like this is something I could focus on and work on.
SA: What was it like putting on the uniform for the first time?
LV: It was like Cinderella. It was like putting on the dress. It was the most incredible feeling.
SA: You’re the oldest cheerleader in the NFL. Does that title irk you, or do you embrace it?
LV: When people started finding out, all the older people in my age bracket were so supportive. They were like, ‘You get out there for us old folks! We’re not old, we’re young!’ I felt like the little poster child, and I am proud because I don’t feel old, and this makes me feel young. I’m proud of being the oldest one. I can definitely keep up.
SA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
LV: That you literally can do anything you want to do. It’s so ridiculous to say, but it’s true.
SA: What’s next?
LV: I want to make it on the squad next year. Tryouts are in May. I’m gonna do it until they don’t take me on anymore.
SA: How can others reinvent themselves?
LV: Ask yourself what makes you happy. Be open to whatever is out there. Make a conscious effort to move forward. It’s not going to come knocking on your door. You’ve got to be the one knocking on the door.
Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.