ParaCheer International was developed as a result of impetus from the International Cheerleading Union (ICU) to create a division of the sport of Cheerleading to cater for those with physical disabilities who still wanted to compete at a high level. But where did it start and why us? It all started with The Worlds First Wheelchair Partner Stunt (Probably)….
Rick Rodgers discovered the joy of competitive cheerleading in 2005. He fell in love with the sport, particularly co-ed partner stunting, and trained hard to develop his skills. In 2008 Rick had an accident (not associated with cheerleading) and damaged the nerves in his knees. This developed into a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a complicated and fairly rare condition affecting the central nervous system that causes severe pain to mainly the affected area, but also other areas of the body. As a result Rick now has to use a wheelchair to mobilise. Though he initially gave up cheerleading and his other hobbies and sports, a year after the accident Rick decided he wasn’t going to let his disability stop his dreams and so he started stunting again. In his wheelchair.
In 2010 Rick performed for the first time as a wheelchair user at a competition in the UK wearing a t-shirt reading “Worlds First Wheelchair Partner Stunt (Probably)”. He didn’t want to assume he was actually the first person in the world to stunt in a wheelchair!
In 2011 Rick was invited to perform at the ICU World Cheerleading Championships, where he certainly was the first person to perform partner stunt in a wheelchair on the Worlds stage! He was invited back in 2012 to perform again and this time, seeing as no one had got in touch to claim otherwise, he dropped the “probably”, was in a proper sparkly uniform and had added a few new tricks to his routine.
In 2014 the ICU contacted Rick and asked if he would come to the Worlds competition again, not to perform this time, but to meet with the governing council of the ICU to discuss the idea of ParaCheer. The ICU were inspired by his performances in 2011 and 2012 and wanted to create a competitive division so others with disabilities could have the opportunity to perform on the Worlds stage, like Rick did, but with the added element of competition and a Worlds title at stake!
Rick has grasped this opportunity to open up the cheerleading world to those with disabilities and has formed ParaCheer International CIO, with the help of co-founders Jayme Rodgers and Joanna Gamper. He has worked closely with the ICU to develop scoring guidelines and rules documents, and is continuing this work to create a classification system for the division. In addition he has run several introductory workshops to introduce the idea of integrated cheerleading to the industry. Rick’s dream for ParaCheer division to become a reality came true as ICU opened this division in 2017. England was the first country to send a representative ParaCheer team to the Worlds competition in 2016, as a showcase of what is possible for this sport and won the first Gold medal in ParaCheer, and the first ICU Gold for England as a country at the 2017 competition.
We cant' wait to see this division of the sport grow and for cheerleading to open up for those with disabilities to compete alongside their peers.