Saturday, March 07, 2009
By Lee Warren
God designed women to be encouragers. That’s what Tina Gaa-Pulley believes, so it seemed only natural for someone whose first dance recital took place when she was 3 and who started her own dance school when she was 16 to become an NFL Cheerleader one day.
Of course, nothing in life is ever quite that simple.
While she loved to dance as a little girl, she had her sights set on playing basketball when she was in the eighth grade in Maryville, Mo., when a providential event occurred in her life. A couple of days before tryouts, as she was practicing with the other girls, she broke her thumb, forcing her to wear a metal brace and limiting her ability to shoot the ball.
When tryouts rolled around, she couldn’t hit a shot, and she didn’t make the team. While she says she was crushed, she did what came natural to her.
“I went to go watch them play their first game, and I stood up and started cheering for them,” Gaa-Pulley said. “I started a cheerleading squad. I ended up going to every game. I was the only one cheering, but by the end of the year, we had a couple of people and that’s how it all started.”
Even though she was considered small and disproportionate, she was the first alternate on the dance team the next season. She excelled there, becoming an All-American. She went on to perform in the Aloha Bowl, the Hula Bowl and the USA Spirit Squad.
She attended Northwest Missouri State University and was on the dance team there as well. The Bearcat Steppers were fourth in the nation during her junior year. She decided to forgo her senior season to start a wellness company with some of her professors, thinking that health and wellness would be her next step in life.
In 1993, she moved to Tampa for a job, and at the suggestion of a friend, she tried out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleading squad. She didn’t make the team initially, but somebody quit and it opened up an opportunity for her. She says she “cheered like I made it.”
Something else was going on in her life at that time. She had always gone to church, but she didn’t really know Jesus. She attended a worship service in Tampa and it stirred her soul — challenging her to live out the faith on a daily basis. Knowing she didn’t possess the type of faith the pastor spoke about bothered her — so much so that she never went back to church while she was in Tampa.
“I did not honor God during that year of my life,” Gaa-Pulley said. “I used [my position as an NFL cheerleader] for greed, pride, fame, for signing autographs, for getting into clubs, for the glitz and glory if it, for me. It was the glorification of me.”
She moved to Idaho for graduate school, got married, had two boys and then endured a divorce. One day in 2002, one of her sons asked her who Jesus was. She couldn’t answer his question, so she took her children to church to find out. She heard the gospel and says she was redeemed in an instant.
She decided to move back to the Kansas City area and immediately got active in a church there. She and her family — she’s newly re-married — are now members of Heartland Community Church in Overland Park. As she grew in the faith, she couldn’t escape the growing feeling that she was supposed to tryout for the Kansas City Chiefs’ cheerleading squad, knowing that if she got another shot, she would do things differently this time. She made the team in 2005, at age 32, and she began to pour herself into the other cheerleaders.
She only cheered for the Chiefs for one season, but the impact she made can be heard in these written words from a fellow cheerleader: “I love being around you just for the simple fact that I feel like you boost my spirit and morale. The way you talk about God is phenomenal …” Another cheerleader wrote, “You’re such a strong Christian woman. You inspire me to be a better person.”
In a sense, she became a cheerleader for cheerleaders, and it didn’t end after she stopped cheering for the Chiefs. She is still mentoring, coaching and speaking to Chiefs cheerleaders. She has written curriculum for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Cheer Camp. And recently she started putting together a professional cheerleaders association in hopes of connecting cheerleaders in all sports. She’s also writing a book to cheer women through their daily struggles.
Recently she attended a Chiefs game in which they were losing handily, and even that gave her motivation to continue to cheer others on.
“By the end of the third quarter, the sea of red had become the sea of red heading out of the stadium,” Gaa-Pulley said. “People were angry — yelling profanities and getting emotional. I looked down at the cheerleaders and was reminded of what a blessing they are. They still had their smiles and they continued to dance and cheer as if nothing had changed. They knew the score, but that didn’t stop them from cheering — even in the fourth quarter. They stood by their team no matter what.
“What if we did that in our families, in our communities, in our careers, in our faith? What if we began to act our way into right feeling rather than feel our way into right action?
“It was a challenge to get off the sidelines and cheer like this in every aspect of life.”