By Telishia Berry
Photos By Steve & Jeff Nagel
We all possess the tools to realize our dreams, yet at times lack courage. Thankfully, Laura Vikmanis believed she had the talent, drive and the skills to be a cheerleader for an NFL team, Vikmanis had the courage to audition for the Ben-Gals, the Cincinnati Bengals Cheer Squad–at age 39!
Trapped in a sixteen year marriage plagued with verbal abuse, Vikmanis, feeling emotionally detached and depressed, decided to leave and returned to her hometown of Springboro, Ohio with her two young daughters. Vickmanis knew starting over was going to be a challenge and was ready to meet that challenge.
While attending a Cincinnati Bengals game with friends, Vickmanis says the cheerleaders exciting dance routines and attractive uniforms caught her attention. “I would like to be a cheerleader,” she said to her friends, “I think I can do that.”
One of the friends replied, “You’re way too old to do that, but fortunately, Vickmanis would not be deterred by negativity. Vickmanis was in great shape; the results of years of dance classes, so she took some initiative and spoke to a Ben-Gal, who encouraged her to get tryout information from the Cincinnati Bengals website.
Vickmanis attended the cheerleading clinics and prepared for tryouts, knowing in order to become a Ben-Gal, she was going to have to believe in herself. Vickmanis says, “I was very intimidated because of my age, the others were much younger than me, but I knew I was a good dancer and I could do the Ben-gals dance routines.”
“I put myself out there because it was something I want to do,” says Vickmanis, “I knew it would have never been approved of as long as I was in the marriage. I just believed I could do this.”
The audition process took almost 3 months and during that time Vickmanis had to lose weight and become skilled at doing her hair and make-up for games. “I worked hard to transform myself,” says Vickmanis. The hard work eventually paid off and Vickmanis made it to the finals!
Unfortunately, Vickmanis did not make the team, but says the experience certainly boosted her confidence. “I told myself that if I didn’t make it, I would be okay with it,” says Vickmanis.
Although Vickmanis didn’t make the team that year, the desire was still there and so she decided to prepare for next years’ tryout with extra dance classes, practice with the Ben-Gals and watching her diet. When the tryouts were announced, Vickmanis attended the clinic and tryouts and this time perseverance paid off, Vickmanis made the team and in the process became the oldest cheerleader in the NFL at age 40!
Vickmanis’ two daughters are especially proud of her. “I told my daughters to never quit, keep trying until you get it.” Setting the example through her own experience, she’d taught them a valuable lesson in perseverance.
And persevere she has. In order to remain on the team, Vickmanis has to tryout each year alongside women half her age and it has not upset her self-confidence one bit. “When my confidence is low,” says Vickmanis, “I perform weak, so I learned I have to be on top of my game physically and mentally to tryout at my best.”
“The try-out process is always a little different each year,” says Vickmanis, “but the glamour, technique, dance ability, performance ability and physique requirements stay the same.”
Now approaching her 45th birthday and fifth season as a Cincinnati Ben-Gal, Vikmanis says she is very proud of herself for managing the demands of being a Ben-Gal. “As a Ben-Gal,” says Vickmanis, “You are extremely focused nine months per year. I feel proud to have accomplished not only making it on the team, but remaining here for four years. I did not envision myself still on the team five years later . . . really.”
Vickmanis admits the process has taught her some valuable lessons. “I have learned I have more willpower and confidence than I’d ever imagined,” says Vickmanis, “Whenever I feel insecure or unsure of something, I think about how I am as a Ben-Gal and I draw confidence from that.”
Vickmanis hopes that when her time as a Ben-Gal ends, she’ll continue to mentor other Ben-Gals and inspire women from all over the world.
In her book, It Aint About The Pom Poms, Laura Vikmanis’ journey from broken and abused wife and stay-at-home mom to NFL cheerleader, is told with truth and humor. Her inspiring story is currently in production and due to be on the big screen soon.
When Courageous Woman Magazine asked Vickmanis what encouraging words she has for other women, Vickmanis says, “Don’t limit yourself. Be open to other opportunities, and don’t judge yourself.”
When asked to define courage, Vikmanis said, “Courage is not letting your imagined fear get in the way of the reality of what you’re doing. Your imagination can create fear. When you let go of fear is when you become courageous.”
Telishia Berry is the Publisher of CW Magazine and the author of the Christian fiction novel The Baptist Junkie. www.telishiaberry.com Telishia.firstname.lastname@example.org