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Netflix's Cheer Makes Me Feel Alive

Illustration for article titled Netflixs iCheer/i Makes Me Feel Alive
Screenshot: Instagram

When Netflix dropped their docuseries, Cheer, I staunchly swore to avoid the entire thing. I’ve always been bitter about not having the skill set to cheer in college when I was a youth. But then I absentmindedly watched the pilot and heard the voice of Monica Aldama, head coach of the Navarro College cheerleading team, for the first time. The connection was instant. It was my growing adoration for Monica that propelled me through the next few episodes which got progressively more nerve-wracking to watch. As much as I love Monica and want her to adopt me, it’s the athletes of Navarro that fuck up my heart rate so much that I question how I’ve made it to the end of the season without having a panic attack.

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Cheer is styled similarly to ESPN’s 30 for 30 and works to drum up the same emotional response from the audience. It’s not just about the sport itself. Viewers are looking through a window into the lives of kids who love something so much that they press on through concussions, dislocated joints, family troubles, and falls from heights that could potentially kill them. They’re doing this all while having to smile and chin pop their way to perfection.

Every time Monica said, “Can ya’ll work on stunts for a minute,” my stomach got tight. After all, kids were getting concussed and dropped every few minutes and after the second episode, these athletes felt like my new best friends-except for LaDarius who is too much of a queen bee to ever want to be my friend. With every attempt at perfecting the pyramid, my heart was pounding in my chest. Just watching from my couch triggered my adrenaline. The last time I was this physically and emotionally invested in any kind of television, Arya Stark was flying through the air and got caught by the neck.

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Cheer is an hour-long sensory overload. It is also incredibly beautiful. The bonds of friendship are nice but the definition these folks have in their bodies is worthy of a Michaelangelo painting. In one episode, Coach Monica is working out in the gym, and the definition in her arms and shoulders was such that I could have cried if not for the fact that I was watching this episode while running on the treadmill.

At some point during the season, I started watching the show standing up instead of sitting. The closer the kids got to their national competition in Daytona, the deeper my brain went into competition mode. During one stunt rehearsal, a girl fell out of formation and I screamed, “where the fuck is her spotter?!,” as if anyone besides my neighbors would hear it. After that particular episode, I was so pumped I left work and worked out for four hours. Whenever fatigue hits me at the gym I imagine the Navarro coaching staff explaining to their team that the most important time to go full out is when they’re tired because that’s how endurance is built. My endurance is trash but Cheer seems to be the thing giving me enough life to work on it.

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DISCUSSION

kenyadiggit
Ken Yadiggit

I really, REALLY enjoyed this show. The athleticism of these kids is insane and I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. It made me want to go see cheer competitions in real life cause that would be THRILLING.

Mostly, I watched because it (and Monica) reminded me of when I coached a junior roller derby team for a few years. Those kids were my everything, they were tough as nails but some of the sweetest teenagers you’d ever meet. A lot of them had really awful life circumstances that, now that I’m a few years removed from it, I’m now realizing how instrumental the sport was to their wellbeing. And as an extension, who I as a coach meant to them. I was there as they went through breakups, broken homes, drug problems, bullying, finding their self identities, the whole gamut. I received crying phone calls, spoke to irate parents, saved from bad situations, was shared good news and bad. I doled out punishments that I felt guilty for, and some that I didn’t. I felt my heart fall out of my chest for the first time, and found out what it was really like to have a person under my care get hurt. I swear, I had never run so fast to be at her side. I was a blind monster fighting anyone who dare harm them, but also played bad guy when what they were doing would harm themselves. I truly understood unconditional love for someone so new and naive and who needed protection.

I recently got a message from one of my youngest girls who is now on an All-Star team and travels the country for derby...she thanked me for everything I did and said she wanted to be a coach like me when she’s older. I could have just died, I was so surprised and touched.

Those kids taught me a whole lot of patience and compassion, and gave me an ever-growing fondness for teenagers today. They really are an amazing and talented and FUNNY (omg so funny) age group. I’ll never ever forget my time with them (their team name is tattooed on my arm, so I better not!), and I hope I made as much of an impact on them as Monica did on these cheerleaders.