Reaching for a dream on her tiptoes

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Editor’s note: The last name of the Bethel University sophomore, Taylor, will not be published due to Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader Security policy. They want to protect the cheerleaders from strangers who may try to contact them in an inappropriate manner. Because of this, the Clarion has decided to follow the MVC guidelines and respect Taylor’s safety and privacy.

How a Bethel University sophomore became the second youngest Minnesota Vikings cheerleader on the team.

By Maddie DeBilzan

When the call came, her hands shook almost as fast as her buzzing iPhone. She needed to answer it, desperately needed to answer it – but, at the same time – she didn’t. She already knew.

That’s why she started crying before she even accepted the call, just before she excused herself from the lecture hall.

“Hi, Taylor, I just wanted you to know that you made the team.”

You know that single, defining moment when who you are and who you want to be hangs over a cliff, and you’re so close to your dreams you can almost taste them, but you’re also so far over the edge you can almost feel yourself falling? Well, that was Taylor’s moment.

Taylor, a sophomore media productions major at Bethel University, began her cheerleading career with the Minnesota Vikings this fall after a grueling tryout process which put her on the practice squad last year. She’s 19. The average age on the team is 26.

160 girls tryout, and only 42 make the team. Taylor made it.

But that’s what happens when you spend thirty hours of your middle school and high school life inside a sweaty gym wearing white sneakers, spandex and a sports bra with your hair up in an elastic binder, and when you drive an hour – each way – after school, just to spend three more hours going over the same routine with the same coach and the same teammates.

 

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Taylor (second on the bottom right) and her Northern Elite cheer team celebrate after becoming international champions when she was in high school.

 

 

That’s what stretching for your dreams on your tiptoes looks like. It looks a lot like sweat dripping down your cheeks like tears. It looks a lot like cramming for the next day’s test in the car on the way home from practice. It looks a lot like “this-is-too-much-I-need-to-quit”– and then, despite of that, not quitting. It looks a lot like early-morning coffees and late-night rehearsal run-throughs. It looks like the opposite of what most little girls would ever choose to do.

But it paid off. Her Northern Elite Cheer Team was the International Champion four times. In 2017 she was Miss Minnesota Earth. She traveled to Washington, D.C. to compete for Miss Earth United States. She won Most Photogenic and Best in Swimwear. She’s appeared on ESPN multiple times. Now, she’s the second youngest Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader on the team.

 

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Taylor gives a four-minute speech at a pageant in Washington, D.C. to compete for Miss Earth United States, after winning Miss Minnesota Earth — a prestigious honor.

 

But if you ask anyone who knows Taylor, her resume will be the last thing that comes up. Instead, it will be her soft-spoken faith. Her humility. The fact that, although Bethel University is a small, private college where everybody-knows-everybody, most people don’t even know she’s a Vikings cheerleader.

When she was little, she designated a prayer corner in her house.

“She would often kneel and pray when she was afraid or when she needed Jesus to help her,” Taylor’s mother, Monica, said.

In high school, she sat by a mentally challenged boy on the bus every day. She’d talk about their friendship at the dinner table.

“That’s what sticks the most,” Taylor’s father, Steve, said. “The way she treats people is so right.”

Taylor is a girly-girl down to the bone. She usually spends an hour – sometimes more – on her hair and makeup. You’ll rarely catch her wearing sweatpants or a hoodie. She’s got painted nails and hoop earrings and red lipstick, and now that she’s a Vikings cheerleader, she gets free tanning, hydro-facials and fake eyelashes. She loves it all.

But ask her any question about the NFL, and she’ll probably know the answer. She grew up an avid Vikings fan. Her idol is Randy Moss. In order to make the team, she had to take a football knowledge test, which was about 100 questions long. She got them all right. You’ll see her in the gym lifting weights on any given day. Her dad refers to her as one of the toughest girls he’s ever met.

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Taylor poses between her parents, Monica and Steve, outside of U.S. Bank Stadium.

 

When she was eight, a boy much heavier than Taylor plowed over her in a co-ed soccer game. She looked at her father with her pouty, I’m-ready-to-cry look he knew so well. Her father Steve raised his eyebrows at her.

“Suck it up,” he said. “You’re okay.”

And she did. She got back up and kept playing.

She still does. It takes one tough cookie to stand in front of thousands of people in the Rotunda of the Mall of America, after being cut the previous year, and perform your own solo dance routine as part of the tryout process.

She said she got a little nervous. Just a little.

Now, she practices three times a week for three and a half hours at a time. On top of that, she’s a full-time student with a boyfriend. She is required to attend 25 appearances every year. When there’s a home game, she’ll spend eight to 10 hours at U.S. Bank Stadium. There’s no way to get through a schedule like that without, as her dad would say, sucking it up.

“We treat them like professional athletes,” Minnesota Vikings coach Theresa Baugus said.

Although her parents spent thousands of dollars on costumes and out-of-state tournaments, and at one point she was involved in two elite cheer teams plus private lessons, and her friends gawked at her bouncy schedule, at the end of the day, it comes down to athleticism.

“The ‘heart stuff’ won’t get you a spot on the team,” Steve said.

 

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Taylor made the Minnesota Vikings cheerleading team last spring. She’s the second youngest woman on the team this year.

 

Taylor lives out her dream simply because it’s her dream, and she reached it. It’s not all glamorous. She only gets paid minimum wage. She still has to drive an hour each way for practice. She rarely has free time outside of cheer and school and homework. She does it because she sat in front of the television one Sunday afternoon and told herself she’d become a Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader.

And then she went all-in. She’s still all-in.

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