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Special abilities athletes 'breaking barriers every single day'
Courtney White’s favourite thing about cheerleading is flipping.
Rebecca Head likes cheerleading because she can meet new people.
Olivia Power said she enjoys practicing with her team.
The three athletes are on the Paradise-based Coastal Wave Elite’s Team Pulse, which has 14 members.
Along with their team, they made history on Saturday.
They were the first-ever special abilities team to compete at the Newfoundland and Labrador Cheerleading Athletics (NLCA) Provincial Cheerleading Championships.
The championships have seen teams from across the province compete annually for more than 20 years, this year at the Conception Bay South Arena.
“Why hasn’t this happened before?” said Pulse mentor and cheerleader Serenna Bailo, 14, of the team’s participation in the event.
“I just love that we’re breaking barriers every single day.”
Team Pulse was formed in June 2018.
They are a non-traditional special abilities team because they have seven members with special abilities, and seven members who have experience cheerleading with other teams, and are mentors for the athletes with special abilities.
They’ve performed in a couple of smaller events throughout the year, but Saturday also marked the first time they’ve ever done a full routine with a dance and pyramid.
“I think it was fun,” said Pulse cheerleader Courtney White.
One of her coaches, Annette Larkin, smiled proudly as she stood nearby at the crowded arena.
“This is my favourite team I’ve ever coached,” she said.
Larkin coaches the team along with Chelsea Mulalley.
“On this team we have many different levels of physical abilities. For example, we have two athletes that are in wheelchairs,” said Larkin.
“It’s been so fun to be creative with their abilities, to see what they can do, and push them to their max, which I’m sure we’re not even close to reaching yet.
“We’re still always discovering things they can do that they’re showing us, and they’re pushing themselves more. This makes it rewarding every single practice regardless of the outcome of a competition like today.”
For Olivia Power, competing with a cheerleading team at the provincial level has boosted her confidence.
“At first she was very tentative, but then they discovered that she’s remarkably strong, so as part of her team’s performance, she actually lifted someone up over her head,” said her mother, Glenda Power.
“Up until Coastal Wave Elite decided to offer a special abilities team, that was always out of reach for Olivia. So, we’re absolutely thrilled that they’ve opened it up in an inclusive way, so that people of all abilities can participate.”
NLCA President Tiffany Henderson said the organization is “super excited” to have the first-ever special abilities team compete at the provincials.
“I think it represents amazing growth in the sport, and inclusion is something that is really important to us, so we are just glad to see the sport able to include everyone.”
Henderson said word of Team Pulse’s achievements is spreading across the province – the NLCA recently had a couple of other people express interest in forming special abilities teams, so it’s possible the special abilities division may have more competition at next year’s provincials.
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