Ashleigh Johnson’s ankle and wrist injuries, not to mention the 12 surgeries and eight sets of ear tubes, have not stopped her from doing what she loves.
The 14 year-old Columbus girl, who overcame epilepsy in elementary school, has been cheering for half her life and currently competes for the Royalty Athletix junior and senior teams. Johnson has competed in seven states during her cheerleading career, including the national cheerleading competition that is Saturday and Sunday in Dallas.
Trying to fit in her doctor visits while committing to cheerleading and attending school has not always been easy for Johnson. She somehow managed to stay an “A” student, despite missing up to 20 days a year of schooling because of her health. The more involved she became with cheering, the harder it was to maintain a conventional student lifestyle. Getting home from cheerleading competitions at midnight and having to wake five hours later for school started to take a toll on Johnson.
That caused her parents, Shauncee and Larry Johnson ll, to move Ashleigh to the Hoosier Academy for schooling. Hoosier Academy is an online school where Johnson can work at her own pace and attend live sessions with teachers anywhere there is an internet connection.
“When we chose to move her to K12 for this virtual academy, it just made her life even better,” Shauncee said. “Now she can be an even better academic student … She’s doing so much more because she is now getting sleep.”
Johnson currently is in her freshman year at Hoosier Academy, and much of her life is centered around cheerleading. Not only does she compete for two different teams, but Johnson coaches two younger teams, as well. She coaches the tiny team of ages 5 to 8 and an exhibition team with girls as young as 4 and as old as 12.
“It’s really nice when you’re coaching to see (the cheerleaders) overcome what they’ve been struggling with,” Johnson said. “I feel like it makes me a more well-rounded athlete. If my coach tells me something, even if I don’t like it, I will know how I would want them to react when I tell them something. I feel like it helps me take criticism better and work harder because I know how I want them to work for me.”
Royalty Athletix head coach Brittany Carpenter said one of the hardest things to do for cheerleading coaches Johnson’s age is to know when it’s time to be a coach and when it’s time to be an athlete. Johnson has been able to balance the two pretty well, which is one of the reasons why Carpenter often forgets she is only 14 years old.
Johnson is competent enough as a young coach that Carpenter often trusts Johnson to start practice when she is busy with paperwork or speaking with parents. She plans on continuing to cheer for as long as she can remain an athlete and said she definitely wants to continue coaching even after her competitive cheerleading career is over.
Johnson’s physical injuries also have allowed her to gain a physical toughness that is rare for an athlete her age. A few years ago, she injured her wrist and was told she needed to wear a cast days before the national competition. Johnson decided not to get the cast so she could compete and then went back to get her cast once it was over. She even continued to practice when she hurt her ankle and had to be put on crutches.
Johnson was on crutches for two weeks two consecutive years. She used the crutches all day but hopped off when it was time to practice and then picked them back up when practice was finished. Shauncee has been able to witness the impact cheer has had on her daughter’s life since she was 7 years-old.
“I think it teaches her to not give up,” Shauncee said. “Anything is possible, and I think that is what she wants most for other young kids.”
Name: Ashleigh Johnson
School: Hoosier Academy
Cheer teams: Royalty Athletix junior and senior teams
Coaching: Royalty Athletix tiny and exhibition teams
Today’s competition: National Cheerleading competition in Dallas