Friday, September 14, 2007

HRSA Project Officer Moonlights as NFL Cheerleader 

Posted by James at 7:07 AM ET

From Inside HRSA
Walk through HRSA offices in the Parklawn building in the fall and you'll see that the NFL's Washington Redskins have a lot of fans. But two HRSA employees go a step further— they perform on the same field as the players in front of 90,000 people who show up for each home game.

Erica, Washington Redskins Cheerleader
The January issue of Inside HRSA profiled Cheryl Austein-Casnoff, associate administrator for health information technology, who doubles as the lead piccolo player on the team band.

And now, Erica Clift, a former HRSA Scholar who works in the HIV/AIDS Bureau, has just joined the ranks of the Redskins Cheerleaders.

Two days a week, Clift wraps up her duties as a HAB project officer managing 14 Ryan White Part C and D grantees in the Northeast and joins 40 other cheerleaders for four hours of practice. Squad members also attend promotions and charity events that take another four hours or so a week. That's all in addition to performances at every home game which, with pregame preparations and post-game activities, eat up another 10 or 12 hours.

“We're a bunch of really busy women,” she says.

Clift, 26, has spent most of her life studying and dancing. A native of Oregon, she spent four years on her high school dance team before moving on to the University of Southern California to earn her bachelor's degree in health promotion and disease prevention. At USC she was a member of a dance squad that performed at special events called the USC Flygirls.

It was at USC that Clift decided to focus on health studies, due largely to the influence of an aunt who worked in HIV health care in Los Angeles.

“I'm especially interested in fighting HIV among African-Americans and women, whose rates of infection are high and growing,” she says.

Erica, Washington Redskins Cheerleader
After USC, Clift moved to Chicago to obtain her master's degree in public health from the University of Illinois-Chicago. While there, she was a cheerleader for the Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League.

Clift came to Washington in 2006 to join the class of HRSA Scholars that graduated earlier this year. “When I read HRSA's mission when I applied to be a Scholar, I said to myself, ‘this is where I fit in,' and I'm glad I did.”

Her path to join the Redskins cheer-leading squad may have been tougher than her Scholars' competition.

The process to make the 2007 squad began in February with twice-weekly classes and tutorials. Auditions began in earnest in April as 300 hopefuls performed before judges. Two rounds of cuts and more intense dance training followed until about 60 applicants remained. Those applicants then went through a full week of learning dance routines, photo shoots and interviews until the final squad of 41 cheerleaders was chosen. The week-long auditions occurred at night, Clift said, since all of the cheerleaders study or work full-time, either in the workforce or as mothers.

And how would she describe cheerleading at her first game, an August 18 pre-season game in front of a packed FedEx field?

“It was so much fun, and so exciting to see our hard work pay off,” she said. “I'm a football fan, too, so to be down on the field with the players and the camera and the fans was really exhilarating.”

Erica, Washington Redskins Cheerleader
Erica (center) with Eileen and Brittany

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