Hi there, Peyton here! I am a recent graduate from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. Go Frogs! I was born in Southern California, but raised in Frisco, TX, a sub-herb 20 miles North of Dallas, TX. I just moved into my new apartment in Uptown Dallas #adulting!!!
More about me…
I started cheerleading competitively at the age of five and, well, the rest is history. The moment I walked through the doors of my former gym of 12 years, Cheer Athletics, I was hooked and instantly fell in love with the sport. The energized atmosphere, the coaches and athletes, training to complete and perform, being a teammate, the hustle…everything. A flyer, I was insanely flexible and could (literally) bend in half. This is where I found my first love. I loved nothing more than being in the air and performing. When you love what you do so much, the work feels effortless. I always felt like I was made to do it.
Spending afternoons and evenings doing homework in the car while on the way to competitive cheer practice after a 7 hour school day, plus extracurriculars, school sports practices and games was my normal. My mom jokes that I looked like I was packed for summer camp every morning before school, lol. Training at an elite level from a very young age (and loving it) required that cheer be my first priority. Beginning my first year of high school, starting my second season on Cheetahs, it was all cheer, all the time. At this point, I went to school, went to school cheer practice and/or cheered a game, and then headed straight to the gym. Now, if you joined my journey post-cheerleading career, you might be thinking, what’s a cheetah? Cheetahs is a level 5 Worlds team which competes in the Senior Large Coed division. It is comprised of 18 female and 18 male athletes. I was a Cheetah the last 4 years of my all-star cheerleading career. During my time on Cheetahs, we won both the NCA National Championship and the USASF World Championship in 2012, what I describe as the Super Bowl and Olympics of cheerleading. Throughout my twelve years at Cheer Athletics, the teams that I was a part of won more National Championships than I can count. Highlights for me personally were becoming a 3x NCA National Champion and a World Champion.
Sacrificing a ‘typical’ teenager life, I missed countless sleepovers, celebrations, and events with my school friends, and that sometimes made things very complicated, but I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. Every sacrifice was worth it. Through the highs and lows and the blood, sweat and tears, I am who I am today because of the amazing friendships, experiences, opportunities and memories that cheering at CA provided me. If you know me personally, then you would probably agree that in some ways I grew up a little quicker than I probably should’ve. But, at the end of it all, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was shaped by a lifestyle only a lucky few get to experience, and I accredit the roots of who I am today to my journey as a competitive cheerleader.
I graduated from high school in June 2014, a year earlier than my graduation plan outlined. Having just turned seventeen, my parents didn’t want me to go away to college yet, so I chose to fully enjoy my last year of cheering competitively while taking college courses at a local college. After Worlds 2015, I pursued a position as a D1 cheerleader for Texas Christian University and made the team. My first year at TCU officially began in August 2015. I entered as a Strategic Communications major with enough credit hours to be considered a sophomore. By the second semester of my first year at TCU, my interests and goals were more clearly defined and I switched my major to Journalism. I graduated in May 2018, just three short years later, with a bachelor of science in News and Media and a titanium-fused spine (keep reading to hear more about that…). Throughout my three years at TCU, I experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life. My second year at TCU, which was my junior year, was by far one of the hardest of my life. I underwent spinal fusion surgery officially bringing my collegiate cheerleading career to an end. It was the first time in 14 years that I was not in a uniform and not a part of a team. The impact that had on my personal identity was both surprising and quite frankly, depressing. I was truly a bit lost. For the first time in my life that I could remember, I wasn’t accountable to a program bigger than myself and I didn’t have to be somewhere almost every minute of every day. I had a lot of time on my hands and for me, that was terrifying. Through some intense and extensive soul searching, long walks and many hours put in at the gym (working out became my therapy), I realized that my passion was performing, and that many of the aspects that I valued so much about cheering didn’t actually take place on the sidelines. I didn’t have to be a cheerleader to be at the heart of the action. Soon thereafter, I received the opportunity to work with TCU Athletics, hosting home games on the TCU Athletics Instagram account via IG stories, bringing users live, up-to-the-minute pre-game and gameday content. This opportunity led to working directly with Instagram within their Instagram Student Section program. Additionally, I was also the first USASF host at The Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Florida where going from the mat to the mic was such a full circle, rewarding experience for me. Reporting on the competition and interviewing both athletes and coaches was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Shortly after returning from Florida, I traveled to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series to cover TCU Baseball which was an absolute blast as I have many friends within the baseball organization. The following year I continued my work with TCU Athletics covering College and Gameday and traveling to San Antonio to cover the Alamo Bowl victory for TCU Football. I covered TCU Basketball as well, and had the pleasure of capturing content of Coach Jamie Dixon completely transforming the TCU basketball program in just two seasons. While at TCU, I also had the opportunity to do some commercial work for TXA 21 as station cheerleader highlighting local high school football action. I was part of Dallas Mavericks Media Day in 2016, and traveled to the Big XII Basketball Tournament to cheer on the TCU Basketball team in Kansas City, Missouri. I developed, or more so realized, the love I have for being a storyteller and giving a voice to athletes. My transition to reporting and curating gameday media felt like a natural progression for me, having grown up within a competitive sport and gameday environment. It seems fitting I feel so at home in the thick of it, even on the other side of the action.
My diagnosis process was actually a bit peculiar, as other hospitals and treatment centers that assessed my spinal curvature diagnosed the asymmetry they were seeing as “overdevelopment of muscle” on one side of my back. I was an all-star cheerleader/competitive athlete for 13 years growing up, and I was a flyer. For those who aren’t familiar with the sport of cheerleading, a flyer is the athlete in the air that executes body positions on the hands of the bases who are holding them up. Initially, the statement of “overdevelopment of muscle” seemed feasible, as I was consistently working and stretching one side of my back with little time and attention spent on the other side (see photo below). Body positions are all pulled on the same side of the body the great majority of the time. The diagnosis wasn’t settling right with my mom. Additionally, my best friend’s mom, who also has scoliosis, was the first person to catch and actually call this so-called ‘overdevelopment’, scoliosis. This confirmed my mom’s suspicions. We met with my childhood pediatrician, Dr. Norman Minsky, who referred us to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, where I was diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis at age 14 by Dr. Brandon Ramo.
Adolescent Idiopathic Lumbar Scoliosis, in short, AIS
Adolescent – referring to the stage in between childhood and adulthood
Idiopathic – cause unknown
Lumbar – relating to the lower back
Scoliosis – abnormal lateral curvature of the spine
My curve, at the time, was a ‘C curve’ measuring a little over 40 degrees. Not only was curvature detected, but twisting as well, something probably associated with only working one side of my back when pulling body positions. I was immediately fitted for a Rigo-Cheneau Brace, a custom plastic preventative brace to be worn 12-22 hours per day. Yes, you read that correctly, 12-22 hours per day. At that point, Dr. Ramo discussed with me that time spent in the brace was an important goal, but I didn’t have to stop doing anything that I was doing. He in no way wanted me to change or alter the lifestyle I lived (the biggest blessing of all), but instead helped me come up with solutions on how best go about my personal preventative plan.
Flashforward two years right before my 18th birthday and the summer before my first year at TCU. My team of doctors decided that since my growth plates had closed, the brace was no longer necessary, and that when I was ready, they were there to discuss surgery. This still meant I had to go in every year for a check-up, but any form of preventative treatment was no longer needed as my curve was over 50, was continuing to increase, and my growth plates were closed. My curve was also now a “S” curve.
This is My Perfect
My first year at TCU, 2015-2016, is when I started to notice a major increase in the physical side effects associated with scoliosis. Clothes started to fit me significantly different, and I was beginning to have a weird weight-distribution in my torso, due to the twisting of my spine. It was after my first year that I decided it was time – a “come to Jesus moment” if you will.
I had the absolute pleasure of partnering with TSRHC to film a documentary of the pre-op process for surgery. The goal of the video is to help ease the minds of young children undergoing scoliosis surgery, too. The video showcases the pre-op process, while simultaneously raising awareness for scoliosis.
I shared my journey with the hashtag #ThisIsMyPerfect for a few reasons. My cheerleading career led to me gaining a platform on social media, in turn gaining a following made up of primarily young teenage girls at the time. The word ‘perfect’ was always thrown around so easily. In cheer, “be perfect,” “look perfect,” “that was perfect,” “we hit perfect.” In comment sections, “you’re perfect,” “perfect,” “ugh why can’t I be perfect.” My question, what is perfect? I think it’s an unrealistic expectation placed by society onto society, a standard I think social media quickly escalated for my generation and the one after me. I would say the majority of people willingly only display the best parts of their lives. Now, as I write this today, I know there are many who are aiming their efforts to showcase a more authentic, real life lifestyle… but, in general, I think you know what I mean. So, with all that being said, I chose #ThisIsMyPerfect because I wanted to take people along a major part of my journey that they didn’t know about and that broke an unspoken barrier of perfect. Someone may look a certain way and someone’s life may appear to be a certain way that come across as perfect, but, really, we all have our own versions of what that perfect really is…and that’s what I wanted to share. As my ability to do what I loved was being taken away, my hope was to share my story while being an example of one of my favorite quotes, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”