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By: Dana Winters, Owner of Dana's Diamonds Cheer Program
Having a student pass away is something that a coach should never have to think about. I never imagined I would have to counsel my team through the death of a teammate. Sometimes we don’t realize as coaches what kind of impact we have on the athletes not only in the gym but out of the gym and their families as well.
Chloe Ann Cox signed up to be on the Rockstar Special Needs Cheer Team in the summer of 2013. Her mom called me prior to class concerned about her limited mobility. The first day Chloe didn’t walk in, she wheeled in with a beaming smile on her face. Chloe lit up the room anywhere she went, from practices to competitions. Chloe had Chiari 1 Malformation combined with Spina Bifida. We took Chloe from out of her wheelchair and helped her work on the floor and mats during practices. We incorporated her wheelchair into the routine with a teammate even riding on the back as well as someone hitching to her lap or holding her hand. Chloe was just as much a part of the routine as anyone else was in the group. She never complained, never even uttered the words I can’t and everyone else around her took note of this and learned to be just as determined as her.
One competition we went to, we arrived to find that there was no ramp down to the ground level where the competition was held. In the snow and ice, Chloe had to go out and around the building to enter. After warming up she needed to take her medication, that she needed. The competition staff was insensitive to her needs. There was not enough time to carry her or the wheelchair up and around where she should take the pill to get back in time to perform. So she took the pill where she was. It was time to go on stage and there was no ramp. Instead of complaining, I started asking parents from our gym to help assist lifting Chloe in her chair onto the stage.
I still get chills watching the video to this day. It took 6 grown men to lift her in the chair. After their standing ovation from their performance, it was time for awards. Our team placed last out of their division, upon reviewing the score sheet it was noted we had a violation. I asked the judges why there was a violation. It was because Chloe had drank water on the competition floor. What a life lesson my girls learned that day. Not one teammate was upset by the loss. They were all proud to stand up for their teammate.
After the season, Chloe underwent surgery that was unsuccessful. October 5, 2014, she passed away. In eighteen months, she had such a profound impact on all of our lives. Being a part of the team meant so much to her, that her mother asked that she be buried in her cheerleader uniform. I was honored to oblige. Walking the team members individually through the calling hours, was an unforgettable experience. As they passed, each girl placed their cheer bow in the casket. With this tragedy, I have been honoring her legacy. We dedicated a bench in her memory at a local special needs playground. It has been our mission to bring inclusiveness to special needs children in our area and follow our mission, “Where Every Child Shines!”