Cheerleader pushes past injuries in hopes to make it on Navarro

Senior Serika Hill decides to tryout for the Navarro cheer team based on the Netflix documentary series Cheer

Alexus Cleavenger

It is the middle of a full out. The running tumbling section of the routine approaches. Cheerleaders are coming from all directions to complete a pass across the floor on their assigned count. 10-year-old Serika Hill is about to tumble.

As she goes into her roundoff back handspring, she leaves her arms by her ears, making it easy to add a double whip after the first back handspring. She adds a back handspring after her second whip. She goes for the handspring and not catching enough height, her fingers land straight into the ground at a sideways angle. With a minute and 30 seconds left of the full out, she finishes it out. 

When the music stops she runs to her coach, crying from the pain, and she never cries. Her hand swells and changes colors. She leaves practice and goes straight to the hospital. Five hours go by and the doctor has the results from the x-rays: she broke her middle and ring finger, along with three other bones in her hand. This was the first time Hill almost stopped cheering.

The second time was identical to the first. Coming back too early from the recovery process and unaware of an additional fraction to the first injury, Hill went into the same pass three months later. After her second whip, she went for another back handspring and her fingers jammed into the ground the same way. She was re-casted and she re-broke the same fingers and bones in her hand.

At the time it was Hill’s first year on a level four team. In allstar cheerleading there seven levels that range from one being the lowest to seven the highest. In that year, she injured her hand before the competition season started. Despite the back to back injuries, she did not want to give up on cheering.

“I did not want to throw it all away,” Hill said. “I couldn’t let an injury hold me back. My mom pushed me to keep going on my tumbling even though I was struggling.”

In the same year she broke her hand twice, Hill also worked towards the progression to level up and become a level four athlete. Her step-mom, Alicia Benavidez became worried that she would face another injury. Hill was already fragile, and there was fear this would not pan out.

“I was honestly afraid that this was going to be something she wouldn’t go back into,” Benavidez said. “I didn’t want her to continue to injure herself. She proved us wrong and went back out there.”

Although she was hesitant to let Hill continue cheering, Benavidez always wanted to put Hill’s happiness above all. Entering her life at age four, Benavidez took over as her mom figure. From the moment the two met, Hill instantly trusted her and at age 21 Benavidez took her in as her own.

“For me, being very young and taking on such an important role in someone’s life, I wanted to just be there for her,” Benavidez said. “I wanted to show her love and just be a mom. I didn’t necessarily have a mom growing up. For me, it was just making sure she knew she had someone that was there and loved her.”

Hanging out in the gym for hours during her sister’s cheer practice, Hill was first introduced to cheerleading from Benavidez. One practice she sat there with nothing to do so the coaches wanted to put her up in the air. Benavidez encouraged the idea and wanted her daughter to succeed.

She stood on the ground with her hands on the bases shoulders and arms locked out. She jumped into their hands and they grabbed both of her feet. They dipped and the stunt went to an immediate extension level. When she got to the top, Hill placed her arms in a ‘High V’ and looked up. Not having any prior experience, she hit the stunt as if she were doing this for years. 

“I see that she has natural talent,” Benavidez said. “Anyone that has ever seen her you could easily tell. You can tell her to go throw a standing tuck, and she will do it. She naturally has this ability to execute more skills.”

As soon as she tried that stunt, she found her passion. Cheerleading always came naturally to Hill, like second nature. But, when she decided to try out for the Navarro Collegiate cheer team based on the Netflix docu-series Cheer, natural talent was not going to be enough. 

Hill always had to work hard, however, with this level of cheerleading, she has to do more than just the hard work. At the tryouts, she is going up against the best of the best. She is working on getting her full- a twisting layout, in a month, which takes years to train.

“It is making me push myself so much more than what I would usually do,” Hill said. “It is something I really want to do and I know I can do it so I can not give up on my dream.”

With the help and support of Benavidez, Hill watches youtube videos to learn what a college tryout looks like and works to find ways to be more creative when she tryouts. 

“She has great jumps, but she needs to make them stand out more,” Benavidez said. “ I am pushing her to do things that are harder from where she is normally. She is mentally preparing herself for anything that can be thrown at her.”

Along with Benavidez, head cheer coach Jessica Sanchez is helping her find opportunities to get better. With a connection to UCF cheerleader Daniel Boeringer, Sanchez encouraged Hill to take stunting privates with him to ensure her flying skills are up to expectations. 

“She is an amazing cheerleader,” Sanchez said. “I know that any program she joins she is going to make better. I just want to do my part and make sure she gets everything she needs to make her an all-around cheerleader.”

Within the past month, Hill trained non-stop to prepare for the tryout on Feb. 28. Since competitive cheerleading can be dangerous, she continues to train and push herself even with muscle aches and pains. 

“We talked about it, and she says she doesn’t even care if she can’t walk off the mat or the next week,” Benavidez said. “ You get in there and show them what you have, and that’s all I care about.”

Despite the dangers of cheerleading and her previous injuries, Hill wanted to cheer in college from the start. She never gave up on her passion is looking forward to seeing what her future holds. 

“The idea of actually cheering in college really excites me,” Hill said. “Once it is all done and over with I will be excited. Even if I don’t make the team, actually going to tryouts would be an amazing experience.”