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Everyday Hopkins: Heather, Redskins Cheerleader and Nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

Everyday Hopkins: Heather, Redskins Cheerleader and Nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

I am a pediatric intensive care unit nurse at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. My colleagues did not know for a very long time that I am also a Washington Redskins cheerleader. It felt as if I was living two separate lives. But, of course, over the years they figured it out.

I’ve been cheering since I was 6 years old. My mom really pushed my sister and me to be active, so I decided to try out for our recreational cheerleading team. That’s where it all started.

In middle school, I danced for a hip-hop troupe. Then, in high school, I cheered for our varsity basketball and football teams. In addition, I cheered competitively and did some gymnastics. In college at The Johns Hopkins University, there wasn’t a collegiate cheer or dance team, so I auditioned for the local NFL team’s cheerleading squad. I didn’t expect to make it, but I did. I spent three years on that team while I was attending JHU, before becoming a Redskins cheerleader.

This season will be my fourth with the Washington Redskins. There are 34 of us on the squad and I am one of the four co-captains. We cheer at every Redskins home game—two preseason and eight home games during the regular season. We don’t travel to away games, unless we go to the Super Bowl, which hopefully will happen at some point during my time as a Redskins cheerleader! My mom comes to every single game. She is definitely my biggest fan.

Cheering on the field during a nationally televised game with thousands of fans in the stadium is so exciting. To prepare for the upcoming NFL season, we start training in April. We practice two to four times a week. Our rehearsals are rigorous. We start with a team workout, followed by stretching and practicing different dance techniques. Then we rehearse the dances that we will be performing at the next game or public appearance.

Our sideline dances are especially versatile because we have to perform them to whatever music is playing at that moment—we never know what it’s going to be. One of the captains will call a particular dance and the rest of the team will pick it up on the spot.

Game days can be long. We’re at the stadium six hours prior to kickoff, the games are about four hours long and sometimes we do a show afterward. I might spend anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week dancing in addition to my job as a nurse.

If you told me I worked 80 hours a week, I wouldn’t believe you. I love both of my jobs so much, for completely different reasons. I don’t know if I could do one as well without the other.

My passion for nursing was sparked through cheerleading. When I first became an NFL cheerleader, we visited a few local hospitals, including the old Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. At the time, I was a pre-med major. I knew that I wanted to help people and thought that I wanted to be a doctor. During these appearances, I witnessed that the nurses were the ones providing hands-on care, standing by the patient and helping the families. That’s when I decided to switch my major from pre-med to nursing.

I absolutely love being a pediatric ICU nurse. There is something about kids—they are just so innocent and resilient and, at times, really funny. My favorite part of the job is when we are able to nurse a child back to health and they get to go home. The wins are sometimes few and far between, so I’ve learned to celebrate the small victories like getting to see a child who has been here for months smile or laugh for the first time. It’s those little moments of joy, if only for a second, that you have to hold onto and keep with you as long as possible to help you get through the tougher times.

Dancing has always been a release for me. It helps me fill up my cup at the end of the day so I can come back to work the next day ready to care for another child.

The story was told to Laura Motel, communications specialist, Johns Hopkins Hospital Nursing

*Editor’s note: The NFL requests that its professional cheerleaders’ last names not be published.

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