Cheer team welcomes special needs members

- At one competitive cheer gym, the Desert Storm Elite has several teams with kids of all ages from 3-years-old to college aged. But there is one team at the gym that is changing the lives of more than just its members. It's a team designed to empower kids with special needs, and these kids will show you that limits were meant to be broken.

"It makes me feel happy when I come here on Wednesday nights," said Ashley Espinoza.

Every Wednesday night the Desert Storm Elite has a very enthusiastic team that hits the mat. It's the Lightning team that is made up of cheerleaders with special needs.

"Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and these kids on Lightning they put their minds to it and they accomplish it," said Eric Contreras.

The 14-member team was created by gym co-owner Contreras 13-years-ago. The team now travels to competitions and has won countless awards.

"We went nationals; we went to Dallas, Palm Springs. They judge us, and I loved it, I loved it my whole life," said Casey Bagley.

Bagley has down syndrome and has been cheering for ten years. His dad Royal Bagley says being a member of the team has brought out the best in his son and being involved in sports is vital for those with special needs.

"It does reinforce it that he's a person, that he's like anyone else. They can take him to any of these groups, and they take him in and treat him like be belongs," said Royal Bagley.

The athletes work hard on their skills at every practice, their stunting, dancing and tumbling, just like every other cheerleader would do.

"Dancing is my life. I like doing my back handspring with my best friend over there, Eric and Blaire there, and I'm really excited," said Casey.

"What I really like most about it, is this year I finally got to do my back handspring by myself without any spot, one of my accomplishments," said Pearce Rodey.

Rodey is also a member of the team. Her mom Joy Rodey says the team has taught her daughter more than that back handspring.

"She's very athletic, she has some cognitive difficulties, that was always hard for her to be in sports with typical kids, but for her to be here it didn't matter," said Joy Rodey.

And the moment the cheerleaders wait for is when they step on the mat to compete, where their physical and mental disabilities become an afterthought.

"We always get standing ovations from the crowd because we're upbeat, and we get the crowd going and get them so excited to see us on the floor," said Pearce.

"Just getting on the mat, and hearing all the crowd cheering and roaring," said Ashley.

Contreras says the team proves having a special need doesn't mean talent doesn't exist and having this group of cheerleaders in the gym; there's no such thing as having a bad day.

"A hug from every single one of them, they all want to hug everyone because they are looking forward to what they love to do and that always brightens my day. Every time I see them, not that I don't appreciate all of our other teams, I just really appreciate this team because they always put you in the brightest mood. If you're having a bad day yourself you know that their going to put you in a bright mood," said Contreras.

There are no qualifications to join the team, and you do not need any previous cheer experience.

If you'd like to join or learn more visit:

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