Jen Jones Donatelli is a Cleveland-based freelance writer, the managing editor of the weekly e-magazine Freshwater Cleveland, and the mother of twins. But, as she details in a personal essay for The Greatist, back in high school, she was a proud, svelte cheerleader. As she got older, she moved on from cheering, but she never forgot the thrill of taking the floor of the stadium before a big game.
So when she became addicted to the long-running CMT reality show, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, which details the rigorous training camp cheerleading hopefuls endure for those coveted white boots, she decided she’d done enough waiting around. It was time to try out herself and see if she could, so to speak, bring it on.
“When I turned 35, a sense of urgency struck—it was now or never,” she wrote. “I was well aware that I was far above the age (and weight) of most NFL cheerleaders, but the story of 40-year-old Bengal cheerleader Laura Vikmanis gave me a glimmer of hope. It was time to hit the gym and go for it—or let go of the dream for good.”
Here’s what the experience was like. So grab your pom-poms and read on—and for more inspiring stories from brave women, Meet the Woman Who Is Conquering the World’s Toughest Climbs.
It requires crazy nutrition plans and fitness routines
In high school, Donatelli was naturally slim despite living on a steady diet of cereal and hero subs. But, like most of us, her metabolism slowed down as an adult, and she struggled to get back to her ideal physique. Motivated by her new dream, however, Donatelli began an intense fitness regime.
“I began exercising six times weekly, throwing myself into Pilates, Zumba, Spin, yoga, kickboxing, and weightlifting with a vengeance. I took burlesque and hip-hop classes. I enrolled in a weight-loss challenge at my gym, which tracked my measurements and body fat percentage… I resurrected the lean protein diet I’d learned from the infomercials; I stepped up my exercising, working out daily—sometimes twice or several times; I turned down business lunches and dinners, knowing the caloric avalanche that accompanied. I had already given up alcohol, but I started adding aloe vera juice and protein/flax smoothies into my daily regimen.”
By the time she arrived in Dallas in May for her tryouts, she was only two pounds way from her goal weight.
Literally a gazillion women try out—even grandmothers
“When I arrived at Cowboys Stadium for the audition, 400-plus girls were already in line. It was an attractive pack, with former Pro Bowl cheerleaders, college dance team captains, and even high schoolers on the verge of graduation. I was one of just a tiny handful over 30—including a 56-year-old who aspired to be the oldest DCC in history, and a 62-year-old grandma who’d undergone thyroid surgery and realized ‘life was too short’ not to chase your dreams.”
Yes, you need to look your best before you sweat
“The day went like this: Hit the ‘fluff and puff’ area for beautification, hear a pep talk from fearless leader Kelli Finglass, and then hit the tryout floor in groups of five for the carefully cultivated panel of judges (including a tanning salon owner and the DCC fitness guru).” And if you’re looking for a confidence boost of your own, don’t miss these 15 Body Positive Affirmations That Actually Work.
The pressure in insane
Once she stood up in front of the judges “under the relentless glare of the hot CMT reality show lights,” the moment she’d been waiting for had finally arrived. But it didn’t go quite as planned.
“I purposefully launched into my freestyle combination and swiftly made rookie mistake No. 1: My hair got caught in my lip gloss and completely covered my face. My cheer career had trained me never to stop for snafus, so I kept going even though I probably resembled Cousin It. I then committed rookie mistake No. 2: completely blanking on my choreography. I went into full-blown panic mode and ended up doing an unflattering squat and some other, equally uninspired moves. As the music wound down, we stood in front of the judges for final scrutiny. My hair continued to stick to my lips. I scurried offstage, bewildered and mortified.”
The experience was well worth it
Given that things didn’t go quite as planned, Donatelli wrote that she wasn’t surprised to find that she hadn’t made it to the semi-finals. After saying goodbye to her fellow competitors, and taking “one last look at cavernous Cowboys Stadium” she drove back to the hotel and passed out “from mounting exhaustion and disappointment.”
When she awoke, however, she realized that while she hadn’t made the team, the experience itself was worth cheering for.
“I’d been so obsessed with my body for so long that I’d lost sight of my real purpose—honoring my lifelong love of dance and enjoying one last hurrah…With the DCC audition experience checked off my bucket list—for better or worse—I decided to grant myself a pat on the back and move on…The experience helped me realize that while I may not be waif-thin—and no longer pro dance team material—I’m a lucky woman, with a supportive husband, a fulfilling job, and a life she loves—curves and all. And that alone is more than enough.”
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