Thirty-six-year-old wife, mother, and career woman Leigh Gauger embarkd on a secret mission to be a professional cheerleader. Again. If only for a little while.
In 1987, Gauger was a 20-year-old college student on a dance scholarship. Her boyfriend at the time encouraged her to audition for the Cowboys cheerleaders. She made it through a field of at least 1,000 women to earn a spot on the team. That year, she was one of the youngest girls on the squad.
That was 17 years ago.
Out on the Broncos audition floor, Gauger nails the first combination of the routine and punctuates the performance with a great hair flip. She throws me a little wave at the end and skitters off the floor.
"Swear you won't tell a soul," Gauger begs me during the break after the first round of competition. "Can this be our secret? Can we keep it just between us?"
Because we're friends, she fills me in on her covert operation. Gauger seems like the Hollywood image of a woman who has it all: marriage, motherhood, and a career. And, to a certain extent, she is: She's in love with her husband, Chad; their 3-year-old son, Max, amazes them daily; and she was 2003 salesperson of the year at the DBJ. She had everything under control. But the routine of taking care of the family, the house, and her career took up her every last minute. As Max grew out of the toddler stage and became more independent, Gauger got a spare moment or two to herself; she began to take stock - it was time to break out of this routine before it was too late.
Motherhood, she realized, meant more of an identity change than she had expected. It seemed to Gauger that for all of the immense joy that came from Chad and taking care of Max, she ended up relinquishing some of her more carefree self.
Parenthood was a blessing, but it meant self-sacrifices of the soul-altering sort. Keeping everything under control took discipline. Then one day last fall she drove past Invesco Field with Chad and had a revelation. In her full Texas twang she threw it out there. "Wouldn't it be a hoot to try out for the Broncos squad?" She needed to shake things up. She'd been a mom for three years, but before that she'd been a dancer her whole life. And she missed it. She missed the energy dance gave her, the music, the girl time. She missed the way she felt when she was dancing well.
During the weekend of her husband's 36th birthday, Jan. 20, 2004, Gauger hatched a plan. She had researched Broncos cheerleader auditions online and decided she had 10 weeks to prepare. It would mean Chad would have to take on extra childcare duties, even fewer nights on the town for both, and a promise to keep her secret safe. Chad signed on and Gauger embarked on Project Cheerleader.