You might see Kaylee Munson and think, she's just a cheerleader. But you'd be mistaken. Munson is a runner, dancer and pro at making the hard work look easy. She made the cut of throngs of young women vying for a coveted position as a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader -- on her first try. Now in her fourth year, Munson is a team captain. The 24-year-old school nurse talks about how dancing led her onto the field, the workouts worthy of Marines and the complete absence of drama queens on the squad.
A BORN RUNNER "Ever since I was a kid my mom used to drag me out of bed in the morning to go running with her. I loved it from the beginning and I ended up competing in track in high school and college. These days I run two to three days a week and, when I can, I still go running with my mom. It's our girl bonding time. My goal is to keep running forever."
SURPRISE! "I wanted to be a dancer. I've been dancing since I was 5. But then in college my dance coach encouraged me to try out for the Vikings squad, even though I'd never cheered before. Surprisingly, I made it on my first try. Once I started, I totally fell in love with it. This will be my fourth season cheering and my first year as team captain."
HIGH-PERFORMANCE "A lot of people hear 'cheerleader' and think pageant girl or bimbo, but we are so different than that. This is the hardest workout I've ever done in my life. On game days we're moving for three hours straight -- dancing every break and trying to get the crowd involved. As part of our military performance tours, I've worked out with the Navy and Marines and those were all tough workouts but, no offense guys, I have to say that our cheerleading workouts are harder!"
FIT IS STRONG, NOT SKINNY Tami Krause, head coach and coordinator of the Vikings cheerleaders, explains, "We want our girls to look like women. For us, fitness is not about being skinny but about being strong, having stamina, staying injury-free and being energetic. You need muscles for that. People think cheerleaders don't eat, but these girls can eat a horse. They just choose to eat the right things most of the time."
To help the young women make good decisions and stay healthy, Krause says they have a team dietitian who meets with the women regularly to teach them skills like healthy cooking and balancing nutrients. "There is no cookie-cutter approach. Every woman needs her own health plan so we make sure they have all the tools and the encouragement to do what they need for their own bodies."
LIPSTICK AND LEGGINGS "The hardest part of being a pro cheerleader is always having to look the part. It's not just on game days. If we're doing a public event, from the second we step out of the car we have to be 'on.' Plus, we have to do every workout wearing dance tights, our Vikings Red lipstick and no ponytails. It took some getting used to but now it's habit and I actually prefer my hair down when I run," Munson says.
TOUGH WORKOUTS The cheerleaders partner with Lifetime Fitness, which provides them with specialized trainers to keep them in top shape. Ryan Svenby, the team performance specialist, explains that each woman is evaluated at the beginning of the season to check for muscular imbalances, structural and gait problems. They are then prescribed a specific workout of "corrective exercises" to prevent injury and maximize their power to perform.
At the twice-weekly practices, they first break into groups and do the Lifetime Fitness training for an hour. Svenby explains these workouts are a mix of strength training and conditioning designed "to build aerobic and strength endurance, flexibility and mobility." Next is 1 1/2 hours of dance practice where they work group routines together. As football season nears, the team will add a third workout.
GET YOUR GAME FACE ON Head trainer and program manager Steve Rosga says the real trick to the women's workouts is getting them conditioned well enough that they can do all that's athletically required of them on game day but with the added onus of costumes, hair, makeup and perma-grins. "They have to do it all but they can't show [the crowd] that they're tired or look like they're working hard."
SORORITY SISTERS Ignore whatever you've heard about cat fights and drama queens, Munson says, because the best part of her job is "all the intelligent, passionate and talented women" she works with. "Tryouts are designed to weed out girls who are there for the wrong reasons. Those of us who make it, we're like one big sorority!"
Charlotte Andersen is a Twin Cities based freelance writer.