556458_4689889770937_970694692_nI remember like it was yesterday. It was my senior year of tryouts at Clemson University, and the freshmen talent had me excited for the upcoming season. One girl stood out among the rest – she had beautiful tumbling and was very athletic. When the final squad was announced, I was so happy to have made the team and was excited to see that this incredible tumbler would also be joining me on the sidelines cheering for the Tigers. Erica Powell quickly became an asset to our team.

You see, Erica made the team and performed every skill with ease, despite being legally blind.

When she was just six months old, she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer. She endured treatments on the tumors until she was seven years old, but stayed active thorough her childhood participating in sports such as gymnastics. However, due to the effects of radiation, today Erica is legally blind. She sees colors, lights and shapes, but everything is blurry. When she was 18, she had to turn in her driver’s license.

Despite these difficulties, Erica is an incredible cheerleader. She began cheering her senior year in high school after years of being a competitive gymnast.  Her running tumbling skills are amazing. She can execute Back Handspring Fulls and specialty passes ending in a Full with impeccable technique. She’s also strong, making her an asset to any stunt group.Erica was the side base in my stunt group her freshman year, and although she was one of two first years in our group, we progressed quickly. She always kept a positive attitude and was willing to learn. Not once did she ever make an excuse or even mention the fact there was ANYTHING wrong with her sight.

1779786_10203562543009900_1305505667_nWatching her cheer on the sidelines, you’d never know she was different from any of her teammates. “My favorite part about cheering is game day, both football and basketball” Erica says. “Since I can’t see the crowd, I love that I can feel the energy of the fans”.  She relies on her teammates and the roar of the crowd to tell her what is happening in the game, and you’ll always see her tumbling in the end zone after a touchdown. Erica is now a junior at Clemson, and will be competing in D1A Large Coed team at NCA College Nationals in Daytona next month.

Erica exemplifies everything a cheerleader should be. She is kind, hardworking and passionate about what she does. Although she is still relatively new to cheerleading, Erica is an inspiration to cheerleaders across the country. The next time you’re running your routine full out and feel like giving up, remember there’s a girl in Clemson, South Carolina doing the same exact thing. It may be a little more difficult for her, but she’s doing it with a smile and without any complaints or excuses.

America needs cheerleaders to demonstrate qualities similar to my friend and former teammate at practice, at their schools and in their communities. We could all learn a thing or two from Erica Powell’s determined spirit. I know I have.

– Tayler Easton