Faith cheers on | RecordCourier.com

Faith cheers on

Whether you call it cheerleading or cheer, Faith Connelly has no trouble expressing her passion for an activity that she has pursued since a very young age.

Connelly, who graduates from Douglas High School today, says she enjoys the camaraderie and teamwork, not to mention the competitiveness. And make no mistake about it, she is a competitive athlete in every sense of the word.

Just don't get cheerleading and competitive cheer confused.

"There is a big difference," said Connelly, who is set to move on and pursue that passion at UNLV. "Competitive cheer is more tumbling, stunting, dancing. It's more almost like gymnastics, where high school cheering is more actual cheering for a team. So we don't really cheer for a team, we compete against other competitive teams from all over the country."

Connelly has pursued cheer as a competitive sport for 12 years and was involved with Douglas High's spirit program as a junior in 2015-16. She is excited for what the future holds.

"I'm definitely excited for the opportunity to continue my cheer career at the college level," Connelly said. "It's something I have never done before and I really like new adventures and taking new chances, and I have a really good support system at home that helps me along the way."

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This is not something she envisioned as a high school freshman.

"Four years ago, it wasn't something I really expected to do … until the last two years," Connelly said. "Then it was like, 'I want to continue to do this for a long time.'"

Just ask about her plans at UNLV.

"I want to major in kinesiology and hopefully become a physical therapist for a sports team," she said. "I just love the team aspect; I love being a part of the team. I feel like if I'm a physical therapist for a team, I'm technically a part of the team and I just think this is an awesome opportunity."

Her work in competitive cheer has been primarily with Reno-based Five Star Athletics, and there have been some noteworthy achievements.

"I've gone to what is called the cheerleading worlds to compete against teams literally from all over the world," she said. "I've done that for four years and my second year we placed in top 10, which was amazing."

A big part of those experiences has been the bonding and friendships.

"My team of 20, and there's four boys on my team, I think of everyone like a brother and sister or best friend," Connelly said.

That commitment involved a lot of time, considering she drove more than an hour one way to the gym.

"The most I've ever done, there was a time when I was on three competitive teams at different levels," Connelly said. "I would spend six days a week up in Reno at the cheer gym with four, five hours a day. That was tumbling, practicing, doing anything I could to achieve goals and be better.

"But it was so worth it. It was so worth all the memories and the experiences that came with it."

The sport is tougher than most people realize.

"There are a lot of injuries that come with the sport … torn ACLs, head-to-head collisions," she said. "It's kind of scary sometimes. But I think the athletes are so dedicated. They hate getting hurt so they come back as soon as they can because your team is your best friend. I think that comes with any sport, but it's really prominent in cheer."

Connelly has been an athlete in her own right. She started at age 5 — "There was a small gym down here called Silver Spirit; that's where it all started, and ever since then, it's been my passion," she said — followed by nine years with the Carson Valley Hot Shots travel softball program.

"That was all before my freshman year, so I was balancing competitive cheer and travel softball," she said. "Then it came down to a decision between softball and cheer. That was probably the hardest thing, but I had always loved cheer."

Oh, and Connelly had a chance to play flag football recently at Douglas High's annual Mountain Madness powder puff game. Her touchdown run with 56 seconds left to play lifted the Senior team to a 12-8 win over the Juniors.

Which is more fun, though … cheering for the other player on your team to score a touchdown, or scoring it yourself?

"I think there's more adrenaline when it comes to football, but I have always loved cheer, so it's more fun to me," she said with a wide smile. "It was a fun and exciting experience."

Connelly doesn't hesitate to recommend cheer to other athletes.

"You learn time management and you learn to work with a team," she said. "There are so many lessons that come with it other than the sport itself, I think, which is awesome."