By: Jordan Michael
Posted: October 11, 2010
Cheerleading has transformed an American hobby into a competitive sport, one of the most dangerous sports for female athletes. The cheerleaders on the sidelines at USC make it look so easy, but it takes a lot of practice, and sometimes it doesn't go just right.
USC cheerleader Stephanie Zeady has spent the last five months watching her team practice and cheer on the sidelines because she tore her ACL and lateral meniscus in her left leg last season.
"I was in a lot of shock, very disappointed to hear I had an ACL and meniscus injury because that is definitely a bigger and longer recovery and injury and surgery than we all thought than just the initial dislocation of my knee caps. I was disappointed but emotionally upset more than anything," Zeady says.
College cheerleading accounts for 70 percent of all catastrophic sports injuries among all female sports, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
While individual tumbling skills be very dangerous for these athletes, performing high flying stunts is causing many of these injuries. In an intermediate level stunt, the flyer, or top girl, is five feet off the ground but in an elite level stunt the flyer can be ten to 20 feet off the ground. Falling from that height can result in serious injury.
The Center for Injury Research says 96 percent of the reported concussions and closed head injuries result from cheerleaders performing elite stunts.
"You start with the basics and then you build upon that with skill, so you're not jumping into elite level skills," says USC head coach Erika Goodwin. "When you do push someone into those elite level skills before their ready without that progression, you are apt to have injuries of that serious nature."
In the last four years there have been some injuries like Zeady's that have required surgery, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been bumps and bruises along the way.
Most cheerleaders know how dangerous the sport can be but choose to do it anyway.
"The competitive part of cheerleading part of cheerleading is the more dangerous aspect, that's how I got injured but I don't think it's anymore dangerous than say football or anything else that requires a lot of impact and things of that sort," says Zeady.
In a couple months she will join her team back on the sidelines. She knows the risk she will be taking, but can't wait to be back with her team.
The National Cheer Safety Foundation offers resources and safety information specific to cheerleading.