Thursday, September 06, 2007
By Pete Mohs
The Lake Country Echo
The Lake Country Echo
Ali Meyer had two great passions while growing up in Nisswa.
She loved to dance at an early age. A second-grade teacher once told her parents, Heather and Joel, that Ali would sometimes perform impromptu dance routines in the back of the classroom.
Ali's other main interest as a youngster was spending Sunday afternoons with her family watching the Minnesota Vikings play National Football League games on television.
Today, the 20-year-old has managed to combine both passions into an elite honor as a rookie cheerleader for the Vikings. She was on the Metrodome sideline to cheer for the purple and gold's two preseason games and will make her regular season debut Sunday when the Vikings host Atlanta.
"Running out of the tunnel with the players before the first preseason game (Aug. 10 vs. St. Louis) was a great experience," she recalled. "It was a dream come true."
Ali's dream to perform before NFL fans began at an early age. She began dancing lessons about the time she started school. Ali stayed with dance and eventually made the Brainerd High School Kixters dance team. She also enjoyed choreographing the Little Miss Nisswa competition until her senior year, when she was selected Miss Nisswa.
Ali's dance took a back seat to college as she attended Lake Superior State in the fall of 2005, focusing on a career in television broadcasting. But she couldnÕt let go of the dream to cheer for the Vikings.
"I was actually going to try out last year," she said, "but I didn't have enough time. I even went to the meeting (in the Twin Cities). But I didn't want to move to the Twin Cities."
Ali had a change of heart this spring and she went to the Vikings' Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie to join 150 other cheerleading candidates. "I came down in late March for tryouts," she said. "The group was cut to 55 people who then attended a three-week camp where we practiced and did strength conditioning."
The squad of 33 Vikings cheerleaders participated in a final audition at the Mall of America. The audition session featured solo performances along with jazz, funk and cheer. A large crowd, along with 20 judges, watched the two-hour competition.
When it was over, the cheerleading coach, Tami Krause, promised to call those who made the team the following afternoon.
Ali returned to Duluth and the next afternoon the call came that she was one of 16 rookies to make the cheerleading team.
"It was one of the most exciting moments of my life," Ali said in a news release on the Vikings' web site. "The audition experience has taught me that if you set your mind to anything, you can accomplish it. I didn't expect to make (the team), but I really wanted it. I put in a lot of hard work during the auditions."
She also needed to overcome a lack of cheerleading experience as one of the younger cheerleaders, who range in age from 18 to 33.
"I didn't have any experience in cheerleading, so I really didn't know what to do going into the tryouts," Ali said, "but the cheers were easy to do with my dance experience. Being a Vikings' cheerleader is like being on a dance team. We do cheer and have pomp, but it's mainly dance. Only one of our cheerleaders had previous (college or high school) cheerleading experience."
Ali also made the team because of her knowledge of the sport.
"We were tested on football knowledge and there were also some cheerleading questions," she said. "The football questions were easy for me since I grew up in a household of football fans - especially my mom. She was a big fan. When we would drive on trips, she would quiz me about cities and states for each NFL team."
Her knowledge of the game, along with her dance ability and enthusiasm, made Ali a natural choice to be a Vikings Cheerleader.
"I'm so excited Ali is on our team," Krause said while watching Ali cheer in the first quarter of the Dallas preseason game Aug. 30. "I decided she was someone we wanted to represent the Vikings."
Krause may have helped inspire Ali to become a Vikings cheerleader many years ago when Krause would bring Vikings' cheerleaders to a dance camp that Ali attended through Cindy Clough's Just for Kix summer program.
"I'm pretty sure she watched the Vikings' cheerleaders at camp," said Clough, who coached Ali as a Kixter. "I'm not surprised she made the (Vikings) team. She's a very beautiful woman with a big smile and a lot of energy. And she loves to perform."
Ali moved to White Bear Lake since being an NFL Cheerleader demands that each member participate in one promotional appearance each week along with regular practice sessions and eight regular season games.
"We will average about 15 hours a week with practices and appearances," said Ali, who also works as a receptionist at a Rocco Altobelli salon along with doing modeling work for Cub Foods and Qwest. "I will also be (at the Metrodome) for about eight hours on game days."
The game day schedule requires the cheerleaders to be in the locker room by 6am and on the field by 7am. The cheerleaders then do a couple hours of practice in the morning before making visits to the private stadium suites and outside picnic area. They begin to stretch out around 11am and lead the Vikings players through the tunnel and onto the field just before game time.
"I'm one of the taller cheerleaders (at 5-foot-8) so the players are right behind me ... that's a little intimidating," said Ali, who's featured in the August 2007 page of the team's cheerleading calendar.
Ali has already received an additional honor as she was chosen the Cheerleader of the Week for the Dallas exhibition game. Her photo and background information was displayed on the scoreboard and Ali helped present a gift certificate in the fourth quarter.
"The (certificate) sponsor chose Ali because she did a great job on camera during her preseason video clips," Krause said. "She has a great smile. But one of my favorite characteristics is how proud Ali is of where she's from. She often talks about the lakes area."
And the lakes area should be proud of her.
"Ali's dad and I couldn't be more proud of her and the opportunities we hope this will bring," said Heather, who along with Joel were in attendance for the first two exhibition games. "I should have seen (Ali being a Viking Cheerleader) coming a long time ago. Ali has been a Vikings fan since she was little and I remember her winning a contest in middle school by knowing the name of the Pittsburgh Steelers' stadium.
"She also loved to dance. I remember her second-grade teacher, Mrs. Dandrea, telling me whenever things would start to get quiet, she would begin to hear sounds coming from (the back row) and she would see Ali's feet moving to a routine, then her arms, and pretty soon everything else would follow. Thankfully, she was understanding and didn't stifle the dances that were running around in Ali's head."