As I sit here at my computer, it is a clear, crisp winter’s day. Across the country, high schools, colleges and professional sports teams are in the midst of football season. And for each of those teams, cheerleaders practice their routines, ready to dance, cheer and encourage their fans to loudly voice their support for their sports heroes. It is almost unthinkable 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 need our cheerleaders too.
As I move through my spinal physical therapy, I am aware of the presence of many cheerleaders in my world. At the gym, my therapists and personal trainers are always there to tell me how well I’m doing, how much more they can see me doing than they could a week ago, and how excited they are when I reach milestones. The technicians who help the therapists are there with a kind word, a smile or a pat on the back. But even more, all the other patients 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. This is no picnic. And we feel in our body when we are doing well or when we are making progress. But when another spinal cord patient, who knows better than anyone the hard work of recovery, looks over and says, “Boy, you look good!” or “Watch you go!”, or “You got this!”, my heart swells and I can feel my muscles working harder.
Even on the days I feel like I’m not in the best shape or as strong as I hope to be (or maybe especially on those days), these words boost my spirits and drive me to keep working. I have learned so much from others who have recovered from their injuries and I hope that one of the things I have learned is to give others the same kind of words of encouragement and support. I know how much they mean to me and I want to make sure I “pay it forward.”
I’m also lucky to have family and friends who always ask how I’m doing, and when I can share progress in my mobility or strength, I hear their cheers too. And no one gives me more encouragement than my husband. “That’s great! You’re making so much progress!” “You look so strong!”. We can never hear these words too many times, especially from the people we love.
We know that life is not easy and it is harder for us than for many others. But everyone has challenges in life. All must be encouraged and supported. If we can just remember every day how good we feel when we hear these positive words, and in turn give encouragement to others, we can lift our own spirits and those around us. I have 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’s better, but I can say without a doubt that both giving and receiving 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 coming your way. Take time to absorb the encouragement you receive from caregivers, friends, and family. Then pass it on. Encourage others. Your day will be better and you will know that you have 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 companies and industry associations. Previously, he worked as a lawyer specializing in civil litigation. He now spends much of his time serving on non-profit boards, 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.