During a cheer practice this past fall, cheerleader McKeil Patterson had the Beaufort, S.C., High School squad called together.
She had something to tell them.
The team was unfocused and disorganized – each girl distracted by school or friends or fatigue. They were practicing their lifts – moves called stunting. A single mistake could result in serious injury.
“It was getting loud, and you’re supposed to keep quiet when you’re stunting for safety reasons,” the team’s coach, Kathy Ingram, said.
Patterson joined the squad in August, fulfilling her life-long dream of being a cheerleader. The 16-year-old was born with cerebral palsy and is bound to a power-wheelchair. To become a cheerleader, she had to spend hours in therapy each week just to be able to lift her hands above her head.
She saw her teammates slacking off and not giving it their all. She called over Jaylyn Washington, a senior captain, and said, “There are a lot of people falling. They’re not being serious. Tell them to get their heads in the game and give 100 percent.”
Coach Ingram had already ordered some of the girls to do push-ups as punishment. She walked over to Patterson and said, “You’ve never had to see Coach get cross, but you’re about to see me in action.”
“That’s when (Patterson) said she’d like to talk to them,” Ingram said.
So the coach called the team together, and Patterson told them they had to get serious. They needed to be careful. They had to try harder.
Then Patterson told them something else.
“I was in bad foster homes, and I was abused for a very long time, three years,” she said. “I had two broken hips, sores all over my body, I only weighed 88 pounds, and I was just hanging on for dear life.”
“I didn’t give up.”
“When I go to therapy I give 100 percent. It might be hard, but I give 100 percent every time. It might hurt, but I give 100 percent.
“Today, you could never tell I was 88 pounds.”
The speech put things into perspective and moved junior Kari Workman to tears.
“McKeil represents everything good about cheerleading,” she said. “Everything that cheerleading was made for, what it’s supposed to be, that’s McKeil.”
An Inspiring Patient
The first time Lisa Johnson, an occupational therapist at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, worked with Patterson, she was covering for another therapist.
“After that, I wanted to get her on my schedule,” Johnson said. “She is the most fun, and the most inspiring patient.”
Patterson shared with Johnson and Kristen Ferguson, her physical therapist, her dream of being a cheerleader. She had lived her whole life being told what she would never be able to do, but she knew better.
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