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The Heart Of A Cheerleader

Every now and then life throws things at us we didn’t expect so we have to make decisions that often teach us a lot about ourselves. This week we would like to introduce you to a very special member of the Coed Cheer Squad. Her name is Savannah Payton.

Savannah (Sav to her friends) is a senior from Marietta, Georgia. She graduated from Harrison High School there in Marietta. Savannah has had a long journey to the point she is at now, set to graduate with her degree in Kinesiology CLEP (Clinical Exercise Physiology Concentration). She plans on entering PT school after graduation or possibly working as a PT tech for a while to increase her observation hours and experience before going to school again.

Sav began cheering with the Stingray Allstars at the age of 6 (I bet she was as cute as a June-Bug) and spent 12 years on teams at that gym. She also started cheering for Harrison in the 6th grade and continued with both the sideline team and competitive school team through her senior year. If you should ever need a quality guide for your Disney World trip Savannah should know her way around very well. Counting trips with Cheer Competition teams she has been to and through “The Magic Kingdom” twenty times.

Sav credits a former State cheerleader with having the largest influence on her life. “When I first came to MSU Kaitlin Day Lawrence was a senior and she took me under her wing. She helped all of us new members integrate into the program and poured as much knowledge into us as she could. I looked up to Kaitlin because she always pushed herself to be her best. Even after tearing her ACL for a third time she came back stronger than ever and set an example that would mean so much to me later on when I went through the same injury. Mississippi State is known for the family dynamic that we have on campus and she showed me how true that is.”

Last year Savannah experienced a new role on her team after tearing her ACL and being out for some time. She knew she could not physically contribute to the team but she found encouraging her teammates was very important to keeping their spirits up when practice was difficult or when everything seemed overwhelming. She sees the same role for herself out front at games for her audience and beloved University. “I try to radiate a positive attitude around campus and when I am cheering on the Bulldogs! You never know how much a smile can mean to someone you cross paths with”.

Last December Savannah and her team were in preparation for the College Cheer Nationals still a month away. The grueling process for selecting the cheerleaders who would be able to compete on the mat and the demanding practices had been carried on for months prior. Now it was December 15th. Students and athletes not in season had started Christmas break but the dedicated cheerleaders were still practicing everyday, sometimes twice a day, to ensure they would represent MSU well at competition. The practice was like any other day of hard work but it was about to change for Savannah and she was about to find out what she had inside of herself.

“Half way through a particularly tough practice our team was physically and mentally exhausted. A certain pyramid had been giving us trouble all practice. This pyramid was certainly difficult but we had hit it before many times and we weren't going to let it beat us today. So we lined it up for what felt like the hundredth time... my part was to stand on a boy’s shoulders and through the building of the pyramid one girl would end up sitting on my shoulders and another would twist up and land on my left leg. This pyramid is ALL about team work. It takes many people to put it up and hold it together and only a little mistake to bring it all crashing down. This particular time felt absolutely the same as any other time, until it wasn't. The pyramid began to fall and as it did my world became slow motion. I felt my knee twist in an unfamiliar way and I realized that something was horribly wrong and that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. I could feel the tearing in my knee with every agonizing second. I knew in that moment that I was being injured. Then, just like someone pressed play again with an excruciatingly loud POP my fate had been sealed. I began screaming and crying uncontrollably as I was placed on the ground by my teammates”.

Now many of us have been through major injuries that hit us hard and frightened us inside where most people don’t see. When they come get you to go to surgery, the unknown is scary. When you wake up and see the result, that too is scary. When the pain comes full force from being cut on it makes the strongest of us grimace. When the PT begins we want someone to choke or punch even though we don’t mean it. We have to decide if we are willing to go through our private little hell if we want to get back to something we love. Question is, how much do we love it and what are we willing to give. The emotional pain is actually greater than the physical. Lots of people can care about us and visit but no one can really know what another goes through in full. It is unique to each person.

Savannah had reconstructive knee surgery on January 5th 2016. She progressed ahead of schedule because her senior year was at hand and she wasn’t going to miss it. She was fully cleared to return to her sport August 4th. “The months I spent in physical therapy were tough but the reward I feel from knowing that I fought through them to get back to what I have loved since childhood made it all worth it. The difference in me now and the cheerleader and person that I was before I tore my ACL isn't a scar or a brace or even a new ACL... I am now so much stronger than I was before. Sometimes, you have to realize you're weak before you become strong.”

Savannah hopes to be able to represent Miss. State one last time at Nationals at “The Diz” but no matter what happens she found something inside of herself that will carry her to many successes in life to come. “I didn't just let life happen to me, I chose to live it how I wanted to. I am proud of that. When you love what you do, it shows.” We can all learn many things from Sav!

I asked Savannah what things would she remember when her time to cheer was finally done? “There are so many wonderful memories to look back on, from being number one in the nation with our football team to placing Top 5 in the nation with my cheer team. All the special moments with my incredible sisters in Chi Omega. But the memories that will stay with me forever are the ones of all the sweet little bulldogs in their cute little cheer uniforms telling me that they want to be just like me when they grow up. It doesn’t get much better than that.” Sav has built relationships that will last through her lifetime.

Saturday is a huge day for this football season. We need to get passionate about what we love the next few days and weeks ahead. We even have cheerleaders out front who have given so much just to represent us. We need to honor them, our team and our Beloved State by what we do, say and the pride we show as we fill Davis-Wade.

We have great coaches, great players and great cheerleaders. I hope that when your thinking if you should be cheering or not, look over towards Savannah and remember “The Heart of A Cheerleader” that led her back to get out in front of us and encourage us to “STAND UP AND CHEER”.

Follow Savannah at:

Instagram: @savpayton Twitter: @savpayton

Thank you Sav for the amazing and sweet person you are!