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.
I feel good doing my part to ensure "your" 2004-2005 Broncos cheerleaders are fit and fine dance machines, but I will always feel like this year's team is missing something. It's missing Gauger. If this were a movie on the Lifetime network, you can bet Gauger would be dancing off into the sunset of an NFL "Monday Night Football" game wearing those chaps - Leigh Gets Her Groove Back. But in the real world, Gauger has been cut. That first day, when Schroder read the numbers of the contestants the judges chose to return, Gauger's number wasn't called. After all that work I figure she must be crushed. I invite her to lunch to cheer her up.
"I had the time of my life on the day of auditions," Gauger tells me a few days later over sashimi at the Sushi Den, the restaurant where she and her husband met. Project Cheerleader wasn't about making the team for Gauger, it was about making a change. The dance training, the sit-ups, the new shoes - it was all about breaking out of her working-mom routine for a few weeks. "I was finally at a point where I felt OK taking time for myself," she says. And focusing on herself, if even just for a few weeks, ultimately became an investment in her family. "This made me better for Max and Chad." That's why she's agreed to share her secret now. "If I can do something like this, anyone can."
Gauger had already lived the cheerleading life - with the ultimate cheerleading dynasty - and chose to walk away. She chose to leave that life and made space for Chad and Max. And actually, they are the only players she wants to cheer for now.
Gauger says she's glad she put herself through cheerleader training again. Now she's a mom with a cheerleader physique and cheerleader energy. She's still doing the South Beach Diet and has found time to work dance into her schedule. Matter of fact, she tells me, she was looking and feeling like her old self when she and her husband took a recent trip (sans Max) to Vegas for a little R&R. "It wasn't about making the team, it was about showing up," she says. "When I walked in the door I succeeded."
Cheerleading Truth No. 7: Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.
Rebecca Landwehr is senior editor at 5280. Never a cheerleader, she recently took her first hip-hop dance class.