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Kelowna cheerleaders lift, jump and tumble in preparation for international competition

Cheerleading has long been associated with pom-poms and rah-rahs, but Okanagan Firestorm Cheerleading is all about athleticism, daring and strength.

The cheerleading school has been operating in Kelowna for about seven years, growing from about 40 participants to almost 150.

The group is thrilled to be participating in the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) International All Star Championships taking place in Orlando in March.

“All-star cheerleading is very different. It’s stunting, it’s tumbling, it’s dance, it’s jumps,” said Firestorm co-owner and head coach Nicole Parrotta, who runs the centre with her husband, Peter. “There’s no pom-poms. That’s actually a completely different sport called sideline cheer. All star cheer is designed for competition and performance.”

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The UCA competition will showcase the best all star cheer and dance teams from around the world at the place where dreams come true: Disney World.

“This is the first time that we’ll be going down. This is also the first time that any team from the B.C. Interior has attended the UCA championships,” Parrotta said.

The company trains cheerleaders from ages 3 to 18 with the goal of teaching them about team work and collaboration.

“One of the most amazing things about this sport is its inclusivity. I get a lot of people who call me and say ‘we have a child who’s tiny or flexible’ and those are actually the last things we look for,” Parrotta said. “We look for kids who are coachable, who want to be part of a sport, who want to be part of a team. It doesn’t matter your body type, it doesn’t matter your age.”

Callie Tansem is one of the cheerleaders preparing for the championships. She says she fell in love with the sport about six years ago.

“I just love how it’s such a family and you have to work as a team,” Tansem said. “For example, I was out for a year because of my back surgery for Scoliosis and I just got started back in, and everyone was there supporting me.”

Even the International Olympic Committee has recognized cheerleading as a sport, allowing the International Cheer Union to petition to be included in the official games.

As for the young women who will be competing in Florida, it’s all about practice, practice and more practice.

“We are ready to go show the world what we can do,” Tansem said.

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