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Friday, February 08, 2008

Drexel Student Balancing ROTC, NFL Cheerleading 

Posted by James at 6:56 PM ET

By Brett Fischer
The Triangle

There may not be any members of the Drexel football team on the Philadelphia Eagles, but there is a student who is a member of the Eagles organization.

Rachel Washburn, a sophomore majoring in history and politics, is a cheerleader for the Birds, but unlike most Cheerleaders, she has also built a strong connection with the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program at Drexel.

Washburn, a former member of the Drexel dance team, was a gymnast for 10 years, but didn't start dancing until high school and was never a cheerleader until she made the Eagles squad.

As a dancer of four years, Washburn hoped her experience would be enough to make the team.

Initially, 600 girls tried out to be an Eagles Cheerleader. After open calls, Washburn made the cut down to 150 and again to 110 to make the semifinals.

After learning a new routine at the NovaCare Complex in front of judges, it was cut to only 60 girls. At this point, Washburn only had a few events remaining before finding out whether she made the team or not. But once she made it to the final auditions, she said she was confident that she would make the squad.

Rachel, Eagles Cheerleader

She took part in a beauty and fitness pageant where she walked in a swimsuit and posed for the audience, and then worked on a dance with two other girls for the competition.

Eventually, she was interviewed by Barbara Zaun, the director of cheerleading, and one of her choreographers, Suzy Zucker. She was asked, "What's the best advice you have ever received?"

Thanks to her involvement with ROTC at Drexel, Washburn was well prepared for this question.

"[The best advice was] from my training NCO, and after a long day of training, I was told, 'The road to success is littered with failures. Don't get caught up in the little things and only focus on the final mission,'" Washburn recalled.

With only 38 girls on the team, Washburn called a hotline the next day and was forced to wait for almost all the girls' names to be called. She was the penultimate person on the list.

Once she called the hotline and had to face whether she was going to make the team or not, she said she became incredibly nervous. But when her name was called, her dream became a reality.

"I heard my name and I freaked out and told a bunch of people, including my two ROTC friends," Washburn said.

Washburn isn't the only woman with an affiliation with Drexel.

Amy Mecca, a recent Drexel graduate in nursing, is also an Eagles cheerleader. Together, Mecca and Washburn did an event at the Drexel 7-Eleven signing autographs and taking pictures with fans and friends.

Washburn has made such a positive impression in the Eagles organization that that her picture was used on the main page of the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleading web site for three months.
Rachel, Eagles Cheerleader

"It's amazing [to be an Eagles Cheerleader]. It's the best job you can possibly have in college. You get to do so much with the community and you get to be a celebrity. Cheering at the games is by far the best part, in front of 67,000 crazy Eagles fans."

While proud of her accomplishments with the Eagles thus far, Washburn wants spectators to understand that there is more to being a Cheerleader than just looking pretty.

"We are eye candy, but every woman on that team has a full-time career or [is a] full-time student and we're all amazing well-rounded women," Washburn said. "We put in long hours with our dancing and long hours for the community and we're a lot more than just a pretty face."

Despite stereotypes that have been made about cheerleaders, Washburn's true passion is with ROTC.

She is in her second year and is an MS2; her department is aligned with the army and she is on a Ranger Challenge team, the elite of the group, with 10 other men.

Washburn said people have to try out for the team by doing physical things such as grenade throwing and rifle marksmanship.

There are about seven girls out of 100 in ROTC.

"The officers that train us try to impress upon us that it doesn't matter whether you're male or female; it just matters the type of leader you're going to be," Washburn said.

But she was the only girl and the youngest member on the Ranger Challenge team.

Washburn said her team trains from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. every day except Sunday. They train for a competition that happens the first week in November, which includes all other Ranger Challenge teams from surrounding states and takes place in Virginia.

"You don't get any sleep the night before and you don't have time to eat," Washburn said. "You march from event to event with a 70-pound pack called a ruck. Throughout the day, you walk possibly 12 miles just getting from event to event."

Some of the events and tests in which she participated were the land navigation (a one-roped bridge that is crossed like a river), rifle marksmanship, the grenade toss, a commander's challenge, the 10-kilometer ruck run and the PT Test.

The commander's challenge included a relay race with an M16. When Washburn got to a benchmark, she had to answer questions about countries and terrorist organizations affiliated with them.

The PT Test includes pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. Her team's PT Score was the best in Ranger Challenge national history.

The final event was a 10-kilometer ruck run. Her team raced against all the other teams. She said they finished second out of about 20 teams.

Some of Washburn's proudest moments in ROTC include getting the opportunity to go to the gold medal awards ceremony at the Union League of Philadelphia, honoring Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense. She even got to cut cake with him.
Rachel, Eagles Cheerleader
However, Washburn has certainly paid her dues to ROTC.

"ROTC is the most important thing to me right now," Washburn said. "It's by far my highest priority. I know that as soon as I graduate, I will be in charge of 40 people's sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. I need to be a competent and capable leader."

She also won the United States Army Superior Cadet Award for being the best cadet of the class.

"In ROTC, teamwork, hard work and selflessness are really important," Washburn said. "You wouldn't really think that selflessness would apply to the Eagles, but when you have to work with 37 other women to continue a peaceful dynamic, it's invaluable."

"When I came out for the Ranger Challenge team the first year, people looked at me thinking, 'What is this girl doing?'" Washburn said. "Like any job, as soon as I started to prove myself, they started accepting me for the quality job I was doing."

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