Wednesday, June 13, 2007
By Carol Robidoux
New Hampshire Union-Leader
New Hampshire Union-Leader
When the New England Patriots match up against the Miami Dolphins in Dolphin Stadium Oct. 21, Belinda Bridgeman-Freeman will be caught somewhere between football heaven and cheerleading deja vu.
"For me, it's all good. I can't wait," said Bridgeman-Freeman, a former Patriots Cheerleader and huge football fan, whose daughter, Brittany Freeman, will be in uniform - her first season as a Dolphins Cheerleader.
It's the latest chapter for this Merrimack mother/daughter duo.
Bridgeman-Freeman was 22 when she decided to put her lifelong dancing skills to good use, landing a spot on the New England Patriots Cheerleading squad while establishing a dance studio in Merrimack, the Belinda Bridgeman Academy of Dance.
Brittany Freeman, 19, is following in her mother’s footsteps. Belinda Bridgeman-Freeman, who runs a dance school in Merrimack, was formerly a New England Patriots cheerleader. Now Brittany is cheering for the Miami Dolphins.
After four years with the Pats, Bridgeman-Freeman shifted her energies back to dance full-time. She married Bobby Freeman, a former goalie for Massachusetts private school Belmont Hill's ice hockey team, who found success as a member of oldies vocal troupe the Great Pretenders.
The next year their daughter was born.
Brittany Freeman quickly followed in her parents' footsteps - or more precisely, her mother's split-sole jazz shoes as well as her father's ice skates, mastering both skills.
But an injury in 2004 forced Freeman out of the competitive skating scene.
She was down, but not out.
Her mom suggested she try something completely different and enter the Miss Teen New Hampshire Pageant - familiar territory to Bridgeman-Freeman, who wore the Miss New Hampshire crown in 1978 and did two USO tours through the Miss America franchise - pre-cheerleading and post-Bob Hope.
"It wasn't something either of us ever thought she'd get involved in, but I knew it could be a great opportunity for her. And at that point, she had nothing better to do," Bridgeman-Freeman said.
"I don't know why I was so surprised when she won her first pageant - I did the same thing myself," she said. "It's all very surreal, to have a daughter so much like you."
There are other twists to their story - including Freeman's own brush with deja vu.
She only decided to try out for the Dolphins squad at the last minute, after searching the team's site on the Internet and revisiting a childhood dream.
"I was 11 and we were invited to perform at the Orange Bowl in Miami through my mother's dance studio," Freeman said.
"I remember walking out into the stadium through the cheerleaders entrance, and thinking how thrilling it was, how much I wanted to perform on that field again someday," Freeman said. "I knew I would. So making the Dolphins squad is literally a dream come true."
Not bad for a kid who once had a hole in her heart.
"She had no symptoms," Bridgeman-Freeman said. "She was 6 when I took her to the doctor for a cold, in the midst of rehearsals for our big recital. They discovered she had atrial septal defect."
Two years later, she heard about a doctor working at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center who could do the procedure.
Dr. Ziyad Hijazi, now medical director of the congenital heart center for University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital, said he could do the experimental procedure only if the family would allow the operation to be watched, live via satellite, by doctors around the country.
The operation was more than a success. Freeman says it set the course for the rest of her life - and continues to do so.
"While I was in Miami, this is weird, a guy who tapes live-feed seminars for doctors ran into my dad. They got to talking and my dad asked if he happened to know Dr. Hijazi. Turns out, this guy does films all the time for him - he calls him Dr. Z."
Hijazi got word about the random meeting via e-mail and arranged for Freeman's success story -from cardio patient to Dolphins cheerleader - to be videotaped.
"He wants to play it during a convention of pediatric surgeons at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in the fall," Freeman said. "He actually wants me to be a guest speaker."
She said her prognosis without the surgery was grim.
"I was told I would have trouble walking up stairs, or playing sports - or live past 27," Freeman said. "So the fact that I'm dancing 20 hours a week, that I'm a figure skater, that I'm working and running around like crazy - it's a gift. I know I would not at all have this life if not for the surgery."
Freeman is going with the flow, adjusting to life as an NFL Cheerleader and looking forward to the Patriots/Dolphins game in October.
Almost as much as she's looking forward to the morning after, when she jets to London with the team, making history as the Dolphins play the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium Oct. 28 in the first-ever NFL regular season game played outside of the United States.
"If she's learned one thing from me, it's that whenever you achieve something, it's not that you've 'made it.' You just consider it a stepping stone to the next adventure," said her mother.
Last weekend, Freeman flew back from Miami to perform in her mother's dance recital at the Palace Theatre. In between rehearsals she got word she was needed back in Miami first thing Tuesday.
It was deja vu all over again for Bridgeman-Freeman.
"She's going to be on a destroyer first thing in the morning, signing autographs and touring naval ships," she said. "This is the kind of thing happening in Miami for her. It takes me back to my USO days, when I was on the USS Blue Ridge in Japan."