Cheerleader suffers neck injury

By: Molly Morrissey, Sports Editor
October 28, 2010

Cheerleading has been an iconic American pastime, and as the sport has become more competitive, so have the stunts. Cheerleading is now considered by many to be one of the most dangerous sports for young women.

Ana Stark (‘13) can attest to the risks of cheering.

Stark was at practice in the SRC on a Wednesday night where her stunt group was working on basket tosses. Their ultimate goal: to launch Stark high enough into the air for her to pull a back flip and come back down. Stark’s group tossed her into the air, but as she was coming back down, the teammate behind her fell and was unable to catch her, causing Stark’s head to hit the ground.

Teammates were unaware of the extent of her injury at first.

“I heard Ana say ‘ow’ and didn’t think much of it,” Co-Captain Anna Essendrup (‘11) said. “We’ve had people fall before so I didn’t think anything serious had happened.”

Stark began telling teammates she felt dizzy and nauseous. Coach Vicky Jaeger sent for the athletic trainers.

“It didn’t look that bad but I freaked out when they said go get the other trainer and I knew it was something with her neck,” Co-Captain Emily Rasmusson (‘12) said.

When paramedics arrived, Stark was experiencing what she described to them as level nine pain in her neck. Paramedics and Luther trainers helped to strap Stark on a backboard to bring her to the emergency room.

Teammates Essendrup, Rasmusson and Liz Cox (‘11) and Jaeger headed to the emergency room to wait for updates on Stark’s condition.

After three hours of waiting in the emergency room, teammates were allowed to visit Stark. The diagnosis: a neck sprain. Stark needed to rest her neck and wear a neck brace until her injury healed properly.

“We did everything we could to prevent the injury,” Essendrup said. “This was a freak accident. People are constantly getting injured in sports.”

A serious injury in 2006 almost caused Luther to cut the cheerleading program from the school.

“I was really upset because I didn’t want people to start to worry about cheerleading again, because we’ve made such progress over the past years,” Cox said. “I didn’t want this to set us back.”

The incident was a nerve-wracking experience for the cheer squad, especially for Stark, who had to lie on the ground wondering what was wrong.

“Being on the backboard was the scariest thing of my life and not knowing if I broke my neck or not,” Stark said.

Stark appreciated the team’s support while she was in the hospital and afterwards.

“It meant a lot to me to have support in the hospital,” Stark said. “I’m glad I did not have to go through that alone.”

With the competitiveness of the sport, injuries are becoming an unavoidable part of cheerleading.

“I am not afraid to stunt again,” Stark said. “I guess that is just the gymnast in me. You get hurt and once you are healthy again, you start where you left off.”

The cheerleaders take offense when people do not take their sport seriously.

“We take stunting seriously, and cheer is dangerous,” Rasmusson said.

The team understands that injuries are a part of the sport and must strive to avoid accidents and keep working toward their goals.

“We consider ourselves serious athletes,” Rasmusson said. “We learn from our mistakes and move on to build bigger and harder stunts.”

Some members of the team feel the sport is chastised and not given the attention from the school that it deserves.

“Cheerleaders are not allowed in the training room,” Essendrup said. “One time one of the trainers was giving me tape for my wrist and her supervisor yelled at her.”

The team feels injuries might be prevented with proper facilities and funding for the squad.

“We are second priority to all other teams,” Cox said. “We have to pay for our own uniforms and training and we do not have sufficient facilities such as a spring floor and thicker mats.”

Stark feels that those who do not think cheerleading is a sport are wrong.

“Cheerleading pushes you in every way,” Stark said. “We have to have strength, endurance and work as a team. Without any of those, nothing works.”