Thursday, January 31, 2008

Niner cheerleader gets Gold Rush fever 

Posted by Sasha at 5:58 PM ET

Ruth Roberts
Antioch Press

Johanna, a petite and bubbly brunette, will be the first to tell you she’s got a great job. As one of the San Francisco 49er cheerleaders, better known as the Gold Rush Girls, the Oakley resident gets to travel to exotic locales, has access to a personal makeup artist and hairstylist, and even finds herself signing the occasional autograph.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, a great job,” said Johanna, who at the request of the 49er corporate office has asked that her last name be withheld. “But there is definitely a lot more to it than just the glitz and glamor; people would be surprised.”

Six-hour practices once a week plus a plethora of routines and rotations makes for a busy and hectic schedule during the season. The cheerleaders perform at all home games and exhibitions – 10 in all. And should their team make it to the Super Bowl, they’d perform there as well.

The Freedom High grad is one of six East County cheerleaders on the squad this season. The others – Raquel, Brittney, Deanna, Jasmin and Kristin – hail from Pittsburg, Antioch and Brentwood.

“It’s been nice having girls from home on the team,” said Johanna. “We all carpool together and have become really good friends. That was a nice, unexpected thing.”

Now in her third year as a Gold Rush Girl, Johanna has managed to strike a balance between cheering at Niner home games and conducting the rest of her life, which includes attending college full-time, working a part-time job in addition to the 49er gig – and finding time for family and friends.

“I’ve found a way to do it all, to make the best of it by being organized, for sure,” said Joanna, 23, who has a background in competition dance. “But it’s not always easy.”

The perks, however, more than make up for the hardships. Over the past few seasons, Johanna has traveled to Mexico and China; even stopping over in Japan last year to entertain American troops there.

But her biggest thrill to date was performing last year before a crowd of over 100,000 in Mexico City, where the Niners played the Arizona Cardinals.

“Oh, my gosh, the rush was amazing,” she said. “I was so nervous to perform before a group that big. But once the music started and the energy got going, it was awesome. We had so much fun.”

And fun, said Johanna, is really what it’s all about. Despite the inevitable stereotypical comments that come with the job, Joanna is forthright in admitting that while a bit of cheesecake obviously comes with the territory, don’t make the mistake of thinking this a group of beauties with no brains.

“We are a group of smart, successful women,” said Johanna, who is studying to become a physical therapist. “We are made up of teachers and Ph.D.s and grad students and moms. As long as you are professional and doing your job, anything else just takes care of itself. We all know that we are representing the team and conduct ourselves accordingly.”

Since the Niners’ first pre-season kickoff is about seven months away, Johanna has a break from cheerleading until March, when tryouts begin. Each cheerleader must try out every year, regardless of whether she made the team the previous season.

“Sure, we have to keep proving ourselves each time, and it’s pretty competitive,” Johanna said of the auditions that attract hundreds of girls. “But in the end, it’s all about getting out there, doing your best and having fun. I love what I do and I’m proud of what I do. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity.”

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