Thursday, October 30, 2008
By Ian Aldrich
From Cincinnati Magazine:
From Cincinnati Magazine:
Imagine for a moment a world in which every Bengals game had you jumping for joy. Tara Willson knows what that feels like. For seven years, the Florence native has performed with the Ben-Gals, the club’s 30-member cheerleading squad. We asked the co-captain what it takes to keep spirits up, up, up! in Bengals Nation.
I still get butterflies running out of that tunnel for he pre-game dance. We’re kicking the game off and I just want it to be perfect. There are 24 of us on the field and you don’t want to be the one who messes up. You want to dance, have fun, and not look like you’re nervous at all.
Game days are really strenuous. If it’s a 1 o’clock kickoff, we’re there at 8, and we have to show up in full hair and makeup and go through a full 90-minute practice. Then we come back and we have a meal, and because we’re sweating from practice, we have to redo our hair and makeup and then change into our uniforms before going out to the plaza level to sign autographs. After that’s done we have only five minutes before we have to be on the field. At the end of the day, I’m ready to fall over.
I’ve gotten used to it, but that first year I was on the team, it was a little strange to be signing autographs.
I usually don’t tell people that I’m a cheerleader because there are those misconceptions out there about us. They only see one side of it, like, “Oh, you jump around in your little outfit.” Besides, it takes a lot to explain what I get out of it. All the charity work that we do off the field, like going to schools to talk to kids or brightening someone’s day at Children’s Hospital, is really rewarding.
That Steelers playoff game [in 2006] was probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been. It was hard to look at the play when Carson went down and not feel like it was done on purpose. When it happened, I couldn’t even talk. I couldn’t even call out what we were supposed to do next. We’re all pros and we knew we had to put that smile on and go, but it was difficult.
I never thought I’d be doing this for seven years. Or that I’d still be in this good shape. But the longer you do it, the harder it becomes to quit. It’s fun, you’re always busy, and the women on the team, we’re like family.
Double-majored in agriculture bio-technology and biological sciences, University of Kentucky
Pursuing a Ph.D. in cancer biology at the University of Cincinnati
“I was taking an African dance class in college and I [mentioned] that I would love to do some kind of professional dance and my instructor said, ‘Tara, you would have no problem doing anything you want to pursue.’ I’ll never forget that.”
“I hope to have my own lab to study colon cancer and look at how inflammation can drive it.”