Fitness first for cheerleader

CHAD SCARSBROOK

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

They're required to be on the practice field several times a week and that's over and above their regular workout routine.

They're expected to be in shape, stay in shape and represent the Winnipeg Football Club during their mandatory 50 hours of charity or promotional work.

They're members of the Blue Lightning Dance Team -- volunteers extraordinaire who do what they do for the love of performing.

Melody, 23, is a former competitive gymnast who was also a cheerleader at the University of Manitoba before making her debut with the Blue Bombers' cheer squad. She's one of the team's stunters -- responsible for catching the flier, or the woman who's tossed into the air during a routine.

"It takes a lot of communication, co-ordination and trust," said Melody. "You definitely have to trust one another."

You also have to be strong, which is why the rookie cheerleader hits the gym four or five times a week.

"Even if I wasn't on the Blue Lightning, I would still work out for my own health and wellness. But it also helps to be in shape for the team. Throwing girls and catching girls can take its toll."

Melody likes to circuit train, mixing in cardio exercises like jumping rope with a medicine ball or bicep curls, to keep her strength up.

"With weight I try to go 18 reps to fatigue when I do a set," she said. "But I want to maintain the muscle I have, I don't want to build more."

The cheerleaders are also put to the task by coach Dena Clark. They start off every practice with 30 minutes of cardio which include running laps, stairs and ab exercises.

"Dena is adamant about staying in shape and being healthy," said Melody. "Anything she can pass on to us I will gladly accept and incorporate into my routine."

Melody admits that going to the gym is the easy part in all of this.

"Changing my diet was the hard part," she said, noting she went from eating three meals a day to five or six. "Before, I'd eat whatever. I'd be stressed out from school or something and I'd eat whatever was available."

Now it's a lot of egg whites, fish, fruits and vegetables.

"I'll have the occasional protein shake here and there if I'm in a hurry and I just try to go back to basics. Cut out the white and go with multi-grain bread."

CAMARADERIE

Melody trained as a gymnast -- sometimes as long as 16 hours per week -- when she was in junior high. She had the potential to be compete on the national scene but said she lost her passion for it.

She missed the camaraderie she felt while being a Bisons cheerleader and knew she could contribute from an athletic standpoint.

"It's amazing," she said. "I've been exposed to so many new things that I wouldn't have seen if I didn't join the team. The ages of the women range from 19 to 30 and everyone brings something unique to the table. It's a great atmosphere."

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