Cheerleading Season

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on December 13, 2022 # Lifestyle

HowardAs I sit here at my computer, it is a clear, crisp winter day. All across the country, high schools, colleges and professional sports teams are in the thick of football season. And for each of these teams, cheerleaders are practicing their routines, ready to dance, cheer, and prompt their fans to loudly voice their support of their sports heroes. It is almost unimaginable that these teams would take the field without their cheerleaders. They are an essential element of American football.

Cheerleaders are part of the entertainment value of sports. But they are also there to show the team that they are supported and have people behind them. And we, too, need our cheerleaders.

As I move through my spinal cord physical therapy, I am aware of the presence of many cheerleaders in my world. In the gym, my therapists and personal trainers are always there to tell me how great I am doing, how much more they can see me do than they could a week ago, and how excited they are as I hit milestones. The techs who help the therapists are there with a kind word, a smile, or a pat on the back. But even more so, all the other patients are watching, noticing my progress and quick to offer a word of support – they are my best cheerleaders. We all know how hard this recovery is. It is no picnic. And we feel in our bodies when we do well, or when we make progress. But when another spinal cord patient, who knows better than anyone else how hard the work of recovery can be, looks over and says, “Boy, you look great!” or “Look at you go!”, or “You got this!”, my heart swells, and I can feel my muscles work harder.

Even on the days, I feel I am not in the best of shape or as strong as I hope to be (or maybe especially on those days), these words buoy my spirits and drive me to keep working. I have learned so much from others recovering from their injuries, and I hope that one of the things I have learned is to give others the same kind of encouraging and supportive words. I know how much they mean to me, and I want to be sure I am “paying it forward.”

I am fortunate too, to have family and friends who are always asking how I’m doing, and when I can share advances in my mobility or strength, I hear their cheers as well. And no one gives me more encouragement than my husband. “That’s great! You are making such great progress!” “You look so strong!”. We can never hear these words too many times, especially from the people we love.

We know life is not easy, and it is harder for us than for many others. But everyone has challenges in this life. Everyone needs to be encouraged and supported. If we can just remember every day how great we feel when we hear those positive words, and in turn, give encouragement to others, we can lift our own spirits and those of the people around us. I’ve heard it said that “it is better to give than to receive.” Well, when it comes to encouragement and support, I can’t say it is better, but I can say without a doubt that both giving and getting support are vital parts of my recovery.

It’s cheerleading season. Metaphorically, we all take the field every day. So get out there. Hear the cheers that come your way. Take time to absorb the encouragement you get from caregivers, friends and family. Then, pass it on. Encourage others. Your day will be better, and you will know you made someone else’s day better too.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.