Cheer-leading the way!

Debbie had a dream and nothing was going to stop her achieving it
Debbie Threlfo

Debbie Threlfo, 26, Mayfield, NSW

As the girls on screen were tossed into the air, I was enthralled. I’d seen the cheerleading movie Bring It On more times than I could count, but I never got tired of watching the teams performing their routines. I’d do anything to become a cheerleader, I thought.

Growing up, I was just like every other girl. I loved horseriding, swimming and even quad biking. 

But being born with cerebral palsy – a physical disability that affects movement and posture – I found it difficult to do some everyday tasks, such as dress myself. Although I was able to walk and stand with some assistance, I relied on my wheelchair for long distances.

Thankfully, my mum Cheryl, 66, has been an amazing support and always encouraged me to follow my heart.

Mum and I (Credit: Debbie Threlfo)

I knew I was different to most people around me, but I never let my condition hold me back. If I wanted something, I went
after it.

There’s no such thing as disability, there is only ability, was my motto.

At times I’m sure it scared Mum to see me sitting on a horse or bike, but I was always surrounded by family to help me if I needed it.

As I got older, my desire to join a cheerleading team never faded. But when I told other people my dream, I was shocked at some responses. ‘You can’t become a cheerleader, you’re in a wheelchair,’ they said.

Determined to prove them wrong, I began doing my own research. After all, I’d never let my disability stop me before.

There’s no such thing as disability, there is only ability…

That’s when I came across Dynamite Dave, an Australian cheerleader who also has Down syndrome. If he can do this, so can I, I thought.

So I called a local cheerleading studio called Oxygen All Stars and spoke to one of the coaches, Ryan, 33.

‘I’ve always dreamt of becoming a cheerleader,’ I blurted out. He was really understanding and invited me to the studio. ‘Let’s see what you can do,’ he said.

Ecstatic, I told Mum. ‘I need you to drive me into town,’ I beamed. ‘I’m going to be a cheerleader!’

When we arrived, I was excited to prove myself. ‘We’re going to treat you like everyone else,’ Ryan and his wife Courtney, 30, said. Pushing myself through that first class, I practised tumbling and stretching. There was nothing I wouldn’t try.

At each lesson after that, I noticed my flexibility and leg strength improving. My confidence was through the roof too!

I’m going to be a cheerleader!

Three weeks later, I approached Ryan. ‘I want to compete,’ I said. ‘When can I start?’

He was impressed by my enthusiasm. ‘You’ll have to work up to it. Maybe this time next year,’ he promised. 

I’ve waited this long, what’s 12 more months? I thought eagerly.

With each class I attended, I worked harder than ever. Almost a month passed, when Ryan came to me. ‘We want to start an all-ability team,’ he smiled. ‘Are you still interested in competing?’

I felt like my heart had leapt out of my chest. I was going to be a cheerleader! ‘Dreams really do come true!’ I cried.

The following week, I met my teammates, Sarah, Mikayla and Cooper and we began learning a routine straight away. Working so closely together, we quickly became best friends.

Dreams really do come true!

Then our coaches told us about the Australian All Star Cheerleading Federation (AASCF) All Star Battle in July this year. So we began practising harder than ever.

A week before the competition, on my 26th birthday, my uniform was ready. Delighted, Mum and I rushed to the studio so she could help me try it on. I was on cloud nine. ‘It’s perfect!’ I squealed.

Mikayla, Me, Cooper and Sarah (Credit: Australian All Star Cheerleading Federation)

When the day of the competition arrived, I stared out at the sea of people and felt so nervous. Then I was wheeled into the centre of the stage and the music started. You can do this, I told myself, adrenaline kicking in.

The moment I was lifted out of my wheelchair and into the air, the crowd clapped and cheered. I felt on top of the world.

When we finished our routine, the audience gave us a standing ovation. It was the best moment of my life.

Later that day, the adjudicator announced our team had won first place in our division. We couldn’t believe it!

It was the best moment of my life.

But the real shock came when a video of our performance was uploaded online. In just a few days, it had over 7.5 million views.

I was soon receiving messages of support from people all over the world. 

I was so overwhelmed watching your performance, one person wrote. You’re such an inspiration to me! commented another. I had no idea my actions would touch so many people. 

Mikayla, Cooper, Me and Sarah (Credit: Australian All Star Cheerleading Federation)

I’m so thankful to everyone who helped me get to where I am today. Now, I’m determined to cheer-lead the way for people with disabilities.

Nothing will stop me!

Courtney says:

We’ve always wanted to start an all-ability team so when Deb first contacted us, we were very excited. We were blown away by her determination and enthusiasm. She’s a natural talent!

To see her perform at the Australian All Star Battle was a very proud moment for me as a coach. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

She has become part of our cheer family and we can’t wait to see her and the team perform at the AASCF National Cheer
and Dance Championships in November.

She’s such an inspiration!

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