Kicking their way to a cure
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Kim Makuvek of Kresgeville strikes a cheerleading pose as a member of Team Ra-Ras and of the NFL Alumni Cheerleaders of the Eagles, and is promoting their breast cancer awareness and fundraiser YouTube video. For every click on the video, 10 cents will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Kim Makuvek of Kresgeville could never have imagined that being an Eagles' cheerleader would someday lead to campaigning for breast cancer awareness. But, that's just what it did.
In 1984, Kim and her twin sister, Kelly, were seniors in college. Kim was attending Kutztown University, majoring in communication design, and Kelly was at East Stroudsburg University, majoring in education. Kelly was dating a young man, John Crits from Philadelphia whom she is married to today, and often accompanied him to Eagles football games.
One day, Kelly called Kim and said, "Let's try out for the Eagles' cheerleading squad!"
Both girls had been cheerleaders for Easton High School, in addition to being gymnasts on Easton's Varsity gymnastics team. The idea appealed to Kim and she said, "Sure."
During the month of May, tryouts were held twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 6-10 p.m. More than 500 girls over 18 years old were competing. In between, the two girls were driving to school in Philadelphia and taking final exams.
"They were nights full of workouts and dance. They were long nights," says Kim.
On the final night of the tryouts, Philadelphia news stations and print media covered the announcements on which 36 girls would become Eagles' cheerleaders.
Kim and Kelly were both picked.
"It was thrilling. A dream come true," Kim says concerning the emotions she felt when her name was called.
The first people they called were their parents, who up to this point, didn't even know they were trying out.
After the initial shock, their parents had some concerns about having "to travel the Schuylkill Expressway every day."
Overall, however, Kim says the parents, who were great Eagle fans, "were very happy for us." Her dad always bragged to friends that he got to go to the home games free because each girl was given two free tickets for home games.
Kim cheered for two and a half years and Kelly, three years. Each year, they had to go through and survive the tryout process.
Kim had met her future husband, John, in her first year of cheering.
"He use to tell his friends he was dating an Eagles cheerleader and they'd say, 'Yeah. Right.'" she laughs.
Kim says the experience was one of a lifetime.
"The comradery was great. I made friendships for life. When we get together, it's like only a minute has gone by," she says. "The 'camera, lights, action' thing was fun. We got to meet the players but we couldn't date them. And it kept you in great shape. You had to give 150-percent all the time because there were 400 girls waiting to take your place."
The cheerleaders did more than practice two nights a week and cheer at home games. They did a lot of charity work, some of which were on a mandatory event schedule.
They visited hospital children's wards, veterans hospitals, senior citizen homes, among other visits.
At that time, the Eagles were committed to "Fly for Leukemia."
"That was our first enlightening experience with charity work," she says.
Kim quit the squad into her third year. Planning a wedding, working full-time and commuting became too much for her. She married John and they have two children, Lindsey, 20, a junior at Penn State and Evan, 18, a freshman at Bloomsburg University. Kim is a safety, health and environmental adviser for ExxonMobil and travels extensively to the company's 17 lubricant plants throughout North and South America.
"I love my job but I live on an airplane," she says.
In September 2009, Kim and Kelly attended a reunion of the cheerleaders.
"We saw our coach, Marylou Tammaro. She was an Eagles cheerleader in the 70s. Then she became a coach and choreographer for the Eagles cheerleaders in 1984.
"We ran up to her and told her we loved her new haircut," Kim says. "She said it was a wig and didn't we hear? She had breast cancer. We hadn't heard. We were floored. She had just finished chemo and reconstructive surgery in 2009."
The sisters learned that there were at least 12 others who had breast cancer.
"Our mom, Mary Nickischer, is a 14-year-survivor of breast cancer. We knew what she had been through because I and my two sisters and my dad were her caregivers," Kim says.
The year they became cheerleaders, there were two other sets of twins who made the squad, too.
They learned that twins, Janet and Joyce Wass's mother had died from cancer. Of the other set of twins, Kathy and Sandy Marinari, Kathy was a breast cancer survivor.
While talking with their friends, they decided they were a group of women who could do a lot of good.
At the reunion, they met Maggie Trush-Hammond, who cheered with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1993-1999 and is the Membership Chair of the NFL Alumni Philadelphia Chapter Cheerleaders. The cheerleaders formed the Ra Ras for Ta Tas team and walked together in the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure in Philly in May 2010.
"Kelly and I, our sister, Kristin Hedgelon of Effort, and our kids had been doing it already for the last 13 years so we were all for it," Kim says.
There were 50 former Eagles cheerleaders and with their mothers, husbands and children, all walked as Team Ra Ras. Kim raised $700 and the whole team raised $11,500.
At the event, Maggie shared how she wanted to do a Decades Dance and raise money for breast cancer research. There have been Eagles cheerleaders for the last 50 years and she envisioned having five groups representing all five decades. She set out to coordinate it, contacting the Susan G. Komen Foundation Philadelphia Affiliate to work out the details. United Healthcare came on board to donate 10 cents per click to view the YouTube video up to a maximum donation of $100,000.
In August of this year, all the cheerleaders received an email about it asking them "Do you want to relive the dream?" If they wanted to participate, they had to sign a contract. They were given a website with the choreographed dance on video.
Maggie picked out the song "Do you remember?" by Jay Sean to perform to because it made her remember her years as a cheerleader and the special friends she made.
"We are cheerleaders, but we're also nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, volunteers, accountants, professionals of all kinds. And most importantly, among all these roles, we are mothers and grandmothers. We envision this video serving as empowerment for the future. We truly believe we will show it to our daughters and granddaughters and talk about 'Do You Remember' when breast cancer existed in this world?" says Maggie.
Jay Sean released the rights for the use of the song and met with members of the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate and alumni before a show at Atlantic City. He recorded a special message for the video.
Over 140 gals signed up, from all over the country, including Kim and Kelly.
On Sept. 11, they all arrived at Lowe's Hotel in Philadelphia. The Susan G. Komen Foundation provided buses to transfer them to the football field at Central High School. Filming of the event began at breakfast the next morning. They left at 7 a.m. and practiced from 7:30-11:30 a.m. Lunch was provided by Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The buses took them back to the hotel where they relaxed a little, took showers and dressed in their new uniforms of black pants and black t-shirts with Team Ra-Ras in pink sequins. The buses took them back to the field at Central High. Filming of the dance was from 3-5 p.m.
"It was thrilling to see how we had changed. And how out of breath we were," laughs Kim.
At the end of the taping, they gathered around. Maggie thanked everyone. All the breast cancer survivors came up and hugged.
"It was very emotional," says Kim. "They all have incredible stories to tell. It was a very inspiring day. Maggie is brilliant for coming up with the idea."
Afterward they went back to the hotel, relaxed and had dinner.
All they had to do now was wait for the release of the video.
The Philadelphia Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, teaming up with NFL Alumni Philadelphia Chapter Cheerleaders and United Healthcare of Pennsylvania launched the organization's first ever YouTube video, "Team Ra-Ras Kick" on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
"On Sept. 11, we danced together for the first time as alumni, and it was awe-inspiring as we rallied behind our own alumni who have taken the breast cancer journey, as well as all women who have been touched by this disease. We are grateful to be able to share our craft to help perpetuate the Komen promise, and hope to inspire multiple generations of women to come together to 'kick' this disease," said Maggie.
Elaine I. Grobman, executive director of the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate said, "It is extremely humbling to think that we, from our small office at 9th and Sansom, have achieved something that will literally embrace people around the world in the hope of beating breast cancer, and empower them with a concrete way to contribute to Komen's mission to end this disease forever. This incredible journey has been the epitome of teamwork and conviction, made possible, thanks to the ingenuity of the NFL Alumni Cheerleaders, the generosity of United Healthcare, the energy of Jay Sean and the passion of everyone."
All that was needed was to get enough people to click on the website. They needed one million clicks to reach the $100,000 goal by Jan. 1, 2011. They reached their goal in 30 days on Nov. 4.
The video, in memory of all those who fought the battle and lost, and in honor of the strength, dignity, and beauty of all survivors, can be viewed at www.KomenPhiladelphia.org.
Viewers of the video will see 136 beautiful women of all ages dancing a routine to a catchy song. What is even more spectacular is the beauty within each, shining brilliantly as they move as one in this unique sisterhood of fighting the war against breast cancer.