Spirit of love: Cheerleading brings couple together despite varying paths
Ashley Churchill was drawn to cheerleading from the instant she became aware of it.
When the Caledonia junior was in kindergarten, her parents saw an advertisement in a phonebook for cheer clinics that were held at CMU. Years later, those clinics are the reason Churchill can call herself a proud three-year member of the CMU cheerleading squad.
"I fell in love with the cheer program that we have here," Churchill said. "It was the highlight of the year, all of us girls loved coming. The staff was amazing. Since then, I have dedicated myself to becoming a CMU cheerleader. Now that I work at the camps, it’s interesting seeing the other side of things.”
Caledonia junior Nick Terpstra was a football and track athlete growing up. It came as a surprise to his family and friends when he told them he made the Central Michigan cheerleading squad.
“My brothers, as you can imagine, still actually give me a hard time for it," Terpstra said. "People are pretty caught off guard by it, but a lot of it is because they don’t know what goes into it. They just think it’s a girl sport. Once I show them what I do, they think it’s pretty cool.”
The two are connected in more ways than being teammates. For one, they have been dating since their senior year in high school.
Both went to Caledonia High School and during their senior year, Churchill went to CMU cheerleading practices, hoping to make the team. Terpstra often made the two-hour drive with Churchill to keep her company.
While Churchill practiced, Terpstra sat on the bleachers with his phone or book, until one day a coach asked him to come down and help.
“One of the guys told me to come down there and try this," Terpstra said. "I came down and tried it and thought it wasn’t so bad. I was used to football, but each time I came down, I would throw the girls. I ended up really liking it so I tried out.”
While Terpstra was almost assured a spot on the team due to the lack of men, Churchill wasn't as optimistic.
“When we first tried out, I would go back to the lunch table in high school,” Churchill said. “I would just be so frustrated because I knew he made the team. He was about to be on the team and I had wanted to be on the team my whole life. It was so frustrating that he made it and I was scared that I (wouldn't).”
Terpstra remembers the frustrating times for his girlfriend, recalling CMU coaches speaking to him more frequently than her.
“Every time I drove up there the coach would talk to me,” Terpsta said. “He said I needed to do this or do that, but Ashley was upset because he wouldn’t give her one second. She would tell me afterward how mad she was that he wouldn’t talk to her and how I was having one-on-one conversations with him.”
For her perseverance and effort, Churchill made the team.
“I remember when she first got there she didn’t have the strongest stunting skills,” said senior captain Laura Huth. “Her tumbling skills have always been excellent, but her stunting skills improved tremendously. It’s been a joy to watch her improve her skills. She came in being the quiet little freshman and now she has a role as a leader, it’s been astounding to watch.”
Three years later, the pair is still dating and are both considered leaders on the team.
“I was so bad when I first joined and now I’m a two-time national finalist," Churchill said. “It’s amazing how much you grow. One of my assistant coaches said a lot of people don’t hit their peak until they are done with college cheerleading. It sinks in once your journey is over that you are peaking. I wish I had more years to see how much more I can improve.”
For Terpstra, cheerleading is a new way to challenge himself and combine his two loves.
“There is always something else you can work toward," he said. "You can get this new skill but there is always something a little harder after that. I’ve been a big sports fan all my life and it’s really cool to be right behind the end-zone for football or baseline for basketball.”
Both juniors keep their goals in mind as the couple's time at CMU nears its end.
“Our program has been growing since we joined the team,” Churchill said. “For the flyers, we have’t been able to skill build as much so I really want to improve myself on more elite skills. I think being a three-time national finalist would be my ultimate goal.”