Cheering for her health
PARACHUTE – Dani Gonzales’ ability to encourage others has gone beyond the sport she participates in. It’s also become a cause.As captain of Grand Valley High School’s cheerleading squad Gonzales’ task is to whip up support for all of the Cardinal athletic teams.Out of uniform, the 16-year-old GVHS junior supports another team. A team also in search of a win. But not on the scoreboard. It’s a team with more than a half million Americans on its roster. It’s a team consisting of boys and girls, men and women who have a chronic disease. They have ulcerative colitis – a challenging disease that affects a victim’s life both physically and emotionally, a disease that can be controlled, but is still in search of a cure.But, as Gonzales proves, people with UC lead active, productive lives.Specifically, ulcerative colitis affects the colon or large intestine, causing inflammation and tiny open sores in the mucosa – the innermost lining of the intestine – a symptom that, in Gonzales’ case, saps her strength.”Sometimes it takes me two weeks to recover from illnesses other kids get, then return, in three days,” she said.
To help slow the disease, Gonzales takes a combination 14 pills daily, along with controlling her diet, reducing stress whenever possible and staying active.That’s where cheerleading comes in.”Before I got sick, I used to play hockey,” Gonzales explained. “Then in eighth grade, I heard an announcement about a cheer meeting at the high school. That’s when I decided to do it.”Gonzales discovered that the sport involves more physical skills that she originally thought.”I expected the cheering at games part. What I didn’t expect was all the work and practice,” she said. “I thought it would be easy to put a girl up in the air.”Recently, practices involving the Cardinals’ cheerleaders have started to intensify.Grand Valley is scheduled to participate in next month’s Class 2A, state cheerleading competition in Denver, an event where the 15-member squad performs a two-minute, 30-second routine that includes partner stunts, a cheer, dance moves and gymnastics.”Practice gets intense before state,” Gonzales said. “Competition is a lot different than games. State is a big deal and we only get one chance to show what we can do.”
Gonzales hopes one chance turns into two this year. Should the cheerleaders’ routine impress the judges enough to earn a high score, the Cardinals could be in position to earn a state title. Fifteen squads are entered in the Class 2A division. Class 2A is for teams with school enrollments below 235 students.The top two teams advance to the division finals, where they repeat their routine, then get re-scored.Last year, Grand Valley finished 10th. The Cardinal cheerleaders are aiming for a higher spot this time around.”Our goal is to place in the top five,” Gonzales said.While cheerleading takes up a lot of Gonzales’ time, she still manages to maintain a taxing schedule that includes participating in the high school’s choir, where Gonzales earned all-state honors, along with winning honors at state science fairs.And, most importantly, she educates the public about UC.”I talk to people of all ages about it,” Gonzales said. “At first it was really embarrassing, because I didn’t want to share my experiences. I found out that I like educating people about UC and it’s good to get it out there. (When I talk) I mention that I don’t let (UC) control me.”Next year, Gonzales is taking another step in making the community aware of the disease.
With help from others, she has gotten approval to conduct a fundraising walk for UC in Glenwood Springs next August.”We feel that we are getting somewhere. And I never want to stop being a spokesman for UC,” said Gonzales. “It feels good being a part of it and doing something about it.”
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