The University of Alabama cheerleading team has added a new member to their squad: 11-year-old Sara Lightsey from Prattville, Alabama.
Sara, who is battling brain cancer, has been named an honorary Alabama cheerleader this month.
At just 9 years old, Sara was diagnosed with a low-grade glioma in her brain. Doctors initially thought she just inherited a tendency to have migraines and low blood sugar, but following an MRI showed a tumor near her spinal column. Sara’s mother, Candace Lightsey, says the location of the tumor makes it difficult to operate on.
Sara underwent surgery in June of 2014, but only a third of the tumor could be removed. Fluid built up on her brain and formed a cyst on the remaining tumor, and she went back for surgery in August. After her August surgery, Sara experienced balance issues and headaches.
That didn’t stop Sara from doing what she loves though. Even just as a fifth-grader, Sara cheers competitively in her hometown.
“It’s taken some time getting back into tumbling and stunts, because her balance is off slightly after the surgery, but she’s working on it,” Candace Lightsey said.
Being taken in as a member of Alabama’s cheerleading team was like a dream, said Sara.
Alabama head coach Jennifer Thrasher first found out about Sara when the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation contacted the university. The foundation’s mission is to help children with brain cancer improve their quality of life by teaming up with high school and college sports teams.
“It’s very exciting and the girls are so nice,” Sara said.
Sara, who wants to one day become a college cheerleader, met the Alabama cheerleading squad during practice on January 10th. She was given the team’s practice shirts and spent quality time with the cheerleaders.
This past Wednesday, the team arranged for Sara, her family, her cheerleading coaches and 10 of her friends to ride a mini-bus from Prattville to Tuscaloosa to watch the cheerleaders perform their UCA routine at the Coleman Coliseum before leaving for College Nationals.
Sara and her friends received priority seating at the performance and were greeted by none other than Big Al himself.
“I’ve been showing pictures of (Sara) and been talking about her for a while,” Thrasher said.
“I think they [cheerleaders] get more out of it when they are giving of themselves, and realized that they are the ones that end up being blessed.”
Information from: The Charlotte Observer