She’s probably the coolest NFL Cheerleader I’ve interviewed for this series. She’s probably the most beautiful, inside and out, probably the most daring and adventurous, and probably the one that can kick your ass without breaking a sweat, thanks to her training and nifty survival skills. She also happens to look just as good in a skin-baring cheerleader uniform as she does in the full-coverage uniform she wears as a captain in the United States Air Force, where she serves as Active Duty. She’s Michelle, originally from good ole Houston, Texas, and now a resident of St. Louis, and a member of the St. Louis Rams Cheerleaders.
When I met Michelle I was immediately in awe. Not only of her presence and downright friendliness but her positive attitude to the news she recently received of being deployed. Simply stating, “I knew my time would come; I’m ready for it,” with the brightest of smiles on her face.
I mean the 5’1” former ballet dancer and tennis star, who also jams out regularly to ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys, has her Master’s in Healthcare Administration, along with her private pilot’s license and serves as the Vice-President for this year’s Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) on Scott AFB. Though she doesn’t fly for the Air Force, she does fly smaller, single engine planes with hopes of one day getting her twin engine rating. She’s an overachiever by definition, but not the annoying one-upper kind. She’s the go-getter you want to be friends with, or even just stand in the same group of people with, she’s that cool.
Oh, she also checked off running a marathon from her bucket list, completing the San Antonio 26.2 in 4 hours and 4 minutes.
And all of the above makes sense as she tells me her favorite motivational quote by Tom Landry: “A winner never stops trying.” She’s already a winner by pretty much every definition and standard imaginable, but she’s the kind of girl who keeps striving to be better, to do better.
She admits that being an officer in the Air Force and an NFL cheerleader often times shocks people. She’s used to laughing it off, or sometimes having to show some form of proof for people to believe her. “People don’t expect an officer in the Air Force to be an NFL cheerleader and vice versa, but I can tell you that the two complement each other more than you think. Just some of the qualities and characteristics they share: having to maintain an excellent level of fitness, being a good leader/role model to others, community involvement, and most importantly, commitment to the team and putting in the extra time and work needed to get the job done. I enjoy breaking the stereotype that you can’t be feminine and be in the military,” she says enthusiastically.
Being a Rams cheerleader isn’t Michelle’s first rodeo at high-kicking it for professional teams. “I got my start in cheerleading for the Boise Burn, an arena football team in Boise, Idaho when I was stationed at Mountain Home AFB. The Air Force then moved me to San Antonio, where I cheered for the San Antonio Spurs, from 2011-2012 while stationed at Randolph AFB,” she says. Michelle admits she tried out for the Spurs a year earlier but got cut, but that didn’t stop her. Having cheered for the Spurs for only a year, the Air Force led her to St. Louis. Eager to tryout with the Rams, her schedule just didn’t seem to mesh with tryout schedules, which are usually held in April.
“In 2012, tryouts took place in late April, so I expected them to be in late April again, for 2013. My wedding was planned for April 26, so I was disappointed I would miss tryouts another year. Amidst all the wedding planning, I kept checking the website until one day it was announced that auditions would end on April 16th, one week before my wedding. I was thrilled I had the opportunity to tryout – so I did! I ended up making the team AND got married the week after. Talk about a busy and eventful month! My husband and I had lots to celebrate – I’ve never been more thrilled in my life!” Michelle says.
Just in her rookie year, Michelle has already experienced so much as a Rams cheerleader, but her best experience was a military trip to Colorado Springs, CO for Armed Forces Day. “We had the opportunity to visit my Alma Mater, the Air Force Academy. I had not been back since graduating and got pretty emotional when I stepped off the plane. It’s been quite a journey so far, and being there as a Rams cheerleader was so surreal. I was proud to give Coach Keely and my teammates a tour of the Academy and describe what life was like as a student. We also got a tour of Ft. Carson’s helicopter operations, which was eye opening. Even being in the military, there are just some career fields we don’t know about because it’s not in our everyday line of work – it was truly a great experience for me,” she recalls.
Out of high school, Michelle was recruited by a number of universities to play tennis. Being the bold gal she is she wanted to try something new so retired her tennis racquet and gave cheerleading a whirl.
“When I decided to attend the Air Force Academy, everyone guessed I would continue to play tennis. The Air Force Academy is a Division I school – we compete in the Mountain West Conference and have a cheerleading squad. A lot of people assume that because we are a military service academy, we don’t have cheerleaders. Turns out, I enjoyed cheerleading so much, that four years in college wasn’t enough. My background in ballet helped me tremendously, thus, I decided to pursue cheerleading after I graduated. The rest is history!” she says.
I mistakenly admit to Michelle that I don’t follow the Rams too much and ask her to describe what it’s like being a Rams fan or attending games in their intimate little dome, where I first met Michelle on the sidelines. Immediately she gets excited to share her knowledge with me, someone who should already know.
“So some fun unique facts about our team is that we were the first professional sports team to move west of the Mississippi River, and we were the first team to regularly televise away games. The St. Louis Rams used to be the Los Angeles Rams from 1946 to 1979, [then moved to Anaheim] and the team relocated to St. Louis in 1995. Our team plays in the Edward Jones Dome. Some fun facts about our stadium is that one, it’s enclosed (whew! no cheering in the cold!). Two, it opened Nov 12, 1995, so it just turned 18 years old. Three, we can seat approximately 66,000 fans inside,” which she compares to the now desolate Astrodome, which holds (or used to) about 60,000 fans. “The dome is 205 feet high, 14 acres wide, and the club level has 42,500 square feet of bars, food service and hospitality space. No other stadium dedicates an entire concourse to its stadium club – which is unique,” she says. “Ty Burrell of the hit TV series Modern Family is also a Rams fan – he took time away from his busy schedule to visit Rams Park and attend a game this season,” she adds.
Thanks to her military background, one of her favorite things about the Rams organization comes in the form of head coach, Jeff Fisher and his commitment to the military and veterans. In May 2011, Coach Fisher was part of a team that climbed more than 19,000 feet to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, to generate awareness for Wounded Warrior Project and the organization’s mission to honor and empower wounded warriors.
“This in itself hits home with me as a member of the Armed Forces. My teammates have traveled to deployed locations and various bases/posts in the United States and across the world including Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Afghanistan and Kuwait. I think it’s wonderful that not only do they get to experience what our military members do on a daily basis, but that our military members get the opportunity to meet us as well! It’s a win-win. A lot of military members ‘adopt’ teams depending on where they are stationed. I’ve met people here who have since converted to Rams fans because of the interaction and involvement in our military communities – they see that,” she says proudly.
Michelle also admits she loves the fact that Fisher used to coach for her hometown team, the Houston Oilers, and is now in St. Louis where she is. “I find it rather awesome that I share that Houston connection,” she says.
“Being an NFL cheerleader is hard work, period. Juggling practice with working out, eating right, doing appearances, on top of a having a unique career with its own demands is not easy. Add in the responsibility of having kids like some of my teammates have, and wow – it’s a full plate! Having to memorize so many dances is challenging too. People underestimate how much memorization goes into being a pro cheerleader! But like everything else, the more you do something, the better you get. It keeps both my mind and body well exercised and in the end, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world!” she says. “While we are on the field and in front of our fans, we are all smiles no matter what – especially through challenging times. No negative energy is allowed. It’s the role we play in helping our team turn things around. When on the field, it’s our game time too,” she says of her role on the sideline. As for her upcoming deployment in February, which will last about four months, Michelle admits she’s nervous but still continues to look on the bright side. “I’m a bit nervous, but I know I have a lot of support from back home (my husband, family, teammates and friends) and I have learned a lot from the predeployment training I’ve received.”
“One of the great things about being a graduate of the Air Force Academy is that grads are everywhere. I’m so fortunate to know that I will be there alongside some of my classmates, some who I haven’t seen in a long time, and I will also be there with people I have met throughout my career. Much like being on the team this year, you bond with people you share the same experiences with, so I know I will be making new friends when I get there,” she says optimistically.
“As a woman, my deployment experience will be very rewarding. Currently, one of our missions in the AOR (meaning Area of Responsibility – our military name for our presence in the Middle East) is to help women catch up with their male counterparts in the workplace. A way we, NATO forces, are doing this is to assist them in learning jobs where women can be viewed as assets, such as logistics, administration and medical. As a medical services officer, I look forward to doing my part making a positive difference in their lives. Looking at the big picture, we are SO lucky to be women with the freedoms we have. We do forget that sometimes women in other countries are seen as second-class citizens and aren’t even given the option to pursue educational opportunities.”
“I’m so proud to be cheering with such a great and fun group of ladies. As a military member, we move around so much that it’s inevitable to leave good friends behind. It can be really hard sometimes, having to move around every couple of years and start over. I’m sure other military members can relate. But it’s what I signed up to do, and I can say I make the best of where the Air Force takes me. Since the first day of tryouts, everyone in the organization had been so nice and a pleasure to work with, starting with my Coach Keely. She works so hard for all of us, both behind the scenes and on the field – she’s everywhere! One of the great things that stands out about this team is the comrade and feeling of ‘belonging.’ We work well together, and have fun doing it. My teammates have become my second family and for that, I’m forever grateful. I don’t have family here in St. Louis (everyone is back in Houston) and my husband (also in the Air Force) is not stationed with me, it’s just me for now. I just feel so blessed that everything has worked out so far – with me being able to cheer while being in the military – and that I am part of this amazing team. I will forever cherish the experiences and the memories and hope to be able to continue dancing for years to come,” the forever optimist says.
Due to her deployment, Michelle will in fact miss tryouts next year (already just a few months away), but they are actively working on a potential tryout via video. “I’m sad I will be missing tryouts for next year because I will be serving my country. I’ve learned a lot being on the team and really hope I’m given the opportunity to do it again next year! I think it will be awesome to come back onto the team with a year’s experience under my belt. If I don’t, I’m still grateful for the many amazing friendships I have made on the team and know we will remain life-long friends,” she says.
As for her and that beloved husband of hers, “We’re working on getting stationed together soon!” she says with a big smile on her face. They say home is where the heart is, and when you have a heart as big as Michelle’s, it’s no wonder she can call pretty much anywhere home. Follow Michelle and the rest of the Rams cheerleaders on Twitter: @stlramscheer
Jayme Lamm is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter. Jayme dared to examine Is the Heisman Really a Joke? and asked 10 (or 12) Weird Questions with Syd Wilder.