Wendy Armitage, 37, always loved dancing. She began teaching dance in her teens, and when she was in college, she set up a cheerleading squad for the football team on campus. Armitage loved cheering so much that she continued to coach even after graduating from college.
Then, at age 28, she was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a condition that causes immense pain in various parts of the body. That, combined with other health issues, eventually led Armitage to use a wheelchair. At one point, she thought she’d never cheer or compete ever again. That is, until Armitage joined Team England ParaCheer in her native UK, a team comprised of athletes both with and without disabilities.
“Being a part of Team England ParaCheer has been amazing,” she said. “I have met people with such a variety of backgrounds and disabilities, and most of the time, I forgot who were the disabled athletes and who were nondisabled.”
In recent years, many major local, national, and international cheerleading competitions have featured teams with special needs. However, those performances and divisions have been “showcase” only, which means they are not included in competitions. That’s why the participation of not one, or two, but three special needs teams (including Team England ParaCheer) in competition at last month’s International Cheerleading Union’s World Championships in Orlando marks a huge milestone for the sport.
The three divisions — ParaCheer Unified Advanced, ParaCheer Unified Pom, and ParaCheer — featured two teams from England and a team each from Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, and Wales. Wendy’s coach, Jayme Rodgers, a former cheerleader for the London City Rockstars, was instrumental in taking Team England ParaCheer to the 2016 World Cheerleading Championship. Years ago, Rodgers had performed with her husband, Rick Rodgers. This…