Monday, August 27, 2007

Bronco Cheerleaders Gridiron Grit 

Posted by James at 1:17 PM ET

The squad hits the stairs, chairs and practice studio in grueling workouts to get in game-day condition.

By Jack Cox
The Denver Post
On a recent Tuesday evening at Invesco Field at Mile High, a gaggle of Denver Broncos cheerleaders could be found running up and down the stairs of the empty stadium, their chests heaving, their long tresses stringy with sweat.

"Awesome, ladies. You guys are great," exclaimed their mentor, Holly Flaherty, a 27-year-old former member who has represented the squad at the Pro Bowl. "Take your time going down, then push each other to get back to the top," she exhorted. "Tighten your tummies as you run, and don't forget to breathe."

For these young women in blue and orange, winning smiles and high spirits are clearly not the only keys to success on the gridiron. Strength and stamina are at least as important, which is Cheerleaders why the 34 members of the group often begin their twice-a-week rehearsals by making a circuit of the steps in the bottom tier - all 1,000 or so of them, in 44 aisles up to 23 rows deep.

"We try to make it really intense, to keep their endurance up for a four-hour game," said Flaherty, a certified personal trainer who introduced the 45-minute workouts this year. "People don't understand how much energy it takes just to stand for four hours" - much less dance.

Denver Broncos Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders Jennifer Kelly, left, and Bri Bateman run the steps at Invesco Field to get in shape for the football season.

In addition to stair running, which is often done in intervals, the cheerleaders typically perform as many as 100 inclined push-ups (leaning forward on seat backs), 100 crunches or jackknives, and 100 dips, or sitting push-ups. The exercises are usually done in five sets of 20 repetitions each.

"Holly gives us a hard workout - she kicks our butts. But she makes it fun," said Jennifer Kelly, 22, a second-year member of the squad and a personal trainer herself. "She's very upbeat, and her focus is on being healthy, not on being a skinny, stereotypical 'tiny thing.' We don't weigh in or take measurements. The idea is to see some muscle definition, rather than a number on a scale."

Laura Sobon, 23, also in her second year, said strenuous exercise plays a critical role in preparation for the troupe's performances. "On the field, we are doing a lot of short bursts of activity, but we are dancing for a long time," she said. "You don't want to die in the fourth quarter."

The cheerleaders, who will appear at 10 home games this season, have been practicing since June after being selected in tryouts in April. Their initial repertoire includes 14 professionally choreographed dance routines, each lasting 60 to 90 seconds, and all new this year. A total of 50 are to be learned as the season goes on.

The squad rehearses at the stadium for four hours each Tuesday and Thursday night, with the group workout mandatory before the Tuesday session and optional on Thursday. In addition, Flaherty offers a third workout on Monday nights, focusing on arms, butt and core muscles.

But for most of the cheerleaders, such organized training is just part of a larger playbook. Several members of the squad get further conditioning in their jobs as personal trainers: Two or three run dance studios, and others are employed in various aspects of the fitness industry.

Denver Broncos Cheerleaders
Denver Broncos cheerleaders fitness trainer Holly Flaherty instructs Jennifer Kelly, left, and Bri Bateman, center, as they do crunches at Invesco Field

"They're all very athletic and in really great shape," said Teresa Shear, a member of the original 1993 squad who now is director of cheerleaders and game-day entertainment. "They compete in soccer and volleyball, they climb mountains, and they all work out regularly on their own."

Laura Sobon, for example, has competed in a couple of Olympic-distance triathlons, runs and lifts weights on lunch breaks from her job at a business consulting firm, and takes two classes back-to-back on Wednesday nights at a dance academy run by Shelly Trujillo, another former Broncos cheerleader who is Shear's assistant director.

Jennifer Kelly, who works as fitness director at a Denver apartment complex called The Boulevard, goes for runs and does yoga and Pilates with weights when she's not teaching exercise classes. Melissa Lopez-Aust, a second-year member who works at a sports marketing firm, takes a dance class one night a week, does yoga three times a week, runs at least six days a week and recently did a half-marathon in San Francisco.

"Not everyone is a fitness professional, but every girl makes being fit a priority," said Kelly. "To be on a professional team, you have to keep your body running smoothly."

More photos and a video of the Broncos Cheerleaders working out here.

Online home of the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders here.

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