15 year old Erika Paige Bruce is one of the inspiring young athletes juggling work, study, and school life whilst undergoing rigorous training as a cheerleader. Born and raised in Auckland, Erika is a cheerleader and coach for All Star Cheerleaders, at All Star Legacy Gym. As a competitor in the 2018 World Cheerleading Championships, hundreds of hours have gone into training, and in this Q and A, Erika shares some of her experiences as a cheerleader, the training regime, future goals, and how cheerleading has helped build her confidence, physical and mental strength.

When did you start cheerleading?

I started cheerleading when I was 7 years old. I was hesitant at first but my friend encouraged me to go along to a ‘bring a friend’ day at All Star Legacy gym in the North Shore. I was hooked from the start. What attracted me to the sport was the fact that not many people could do the things that cheerleaders can do such as tumbling, flipping and stunts. I also saw it as a great opportunity to make new friends – and have developed friends for life as a result.

By the time I was 8 years I became a flyer which is where you get thrown up in the air – you have to put a lot of trust in the people throwing you – I quickly gained that trust!

What opportunities has cheerleading given you?

I have been really privileged to compete in high profile events overseas – I made New Zealand’s first Junior Team to compete at the World Cheerleading Championships in Florida this year. It has always been a dream of mine from the beginning to participate at the world’s so it was a pretty surreal moment. I also made the Team NZ All-Girl and Co-Ed squads and we placed 2nd and 3rd in the world. I was also asked to be the flag bearer for the Team NZ Junior squad and that was an amazing experience leading the team on stage in front of thousands of people.

What sort of training is involved in cheerleading, particularly the world champs?

Training can be pretty intense – I was in 3 separate teams for the World Championships so was training most days of the week, before and after school and on the weekends. In the lead up to worlds, we were training 12 hour days in a week-long bootcamp followed by a showcase on the last day to friends and family.

I also coach a team called Super Stars junior aged from 5-10 years old a few days after school – I love teaching the kids new things and I get a real sense of satisfaction watching them develop, grow, make new friends and enjoy something I am so passionate about! The gym is pretty much my second home.

Following the World Cheerleading Championships this year, I made the NZ Development squad and that involves training for 2 hours on Sunday – developing our skills for Team NZ and the 2020 World Cheerleading Championships.

Erika as flyer. Photo supplied.

How do you manage to balance your school work and general life with all your cheerleading training and coaching?

It can be hard sometimes, I can end up staying up late to finish homework and other tasks but cheerleading gives you a real sense of discipline – you don’t have time to procrastinate! It’s all worth it to me and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

What are the most common misconceptions people have of cheerleading you discovered along the way?

Most people think it’s about pom poms and dancing on the side of a sports field. That’s not the case – we don’t use pom poms and our routines are full on stunts, tumbles, flips. If people came to watch our competitions and showcases they would see how much training, discipline and hard work goes into the sport. People also have the misconception that cheerleaders aren’t that smart which couldn’t be further from the truth!

What advice would you give you people keen to try out cheerleading?

Everyone is welcome at cheer, the coaches are so lovely – you learn so many new skills but you also make so many new friends and learn life skills that you can apply to real life situations. It’s about giving things a try and doing your best – hard work over talent.

How has cheerleading helped develop you as person?

When I first started cheerleading I was really shy and kept to myself but you can pretty much say I’m the opposite now – it’s given me so many opportunities to grow as a person. I’m more confident, have meet so many new friends, have developed leadership skills through coaching and have had the opportunity to travel through competing in overseas competitions.