12/01/06 — Former Aycock standout has the spirit at ECU

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Former Aycock standout has the spirit at ECU

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on December 1, 2006 1:48 PM

GREENVILLE -- Following her dreams is what brought Tara Sutherland from cheering on the pee-wee football fields to the sidelines of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at East Carolina University.

A 2004 honor graduate of Charles B. Aycock, Sutherland began cheering at the age of 6 for the Little Falcons. She remembers it well.

"I tried out, made it and kept on cheering throughout middle school, high school and now in college," she said.

While in high school at Aycock, Sutherland was an all-conference cheerleader and participated on the team which finished first-runner-up at the state cheerleading competition.

"The Charles B. Aycock community has always really supported me with no matter what I've done," Sutherland said. "That's one thing I'm grateful for."

Now at ECU, Sutherland no longer has the comfort of cheering in front of only family and friends -- she now performs in front of thousands of unknown faces, something she has found to be a challenging experience.

"There's always the pressure of not to mess up, especially in the stands since they can see you if you mess up and everyone else is doing something completely different," said Sutherland as she was preparing to cheer in front of 41,372 fans at the ECU-Marshall game. "That's one of the most stressful things, cheering in front of a big crowd."

Sutherland has shown the pressure doesn't affect her as the job she's done on the sidelines earned her the honor of being voted team captain this year.

"I wasn't expecting to get it," Sutherland said of the position. "I was really shocked, but happy."

In addition to the challenges of performing in front of a big crowd, cheerleaders are also among the most susceptible athletes to injuries.

Through her 14 years of cheerleading, Sutherland has been fortunate to escape serious injury.

"When I was in eighth grade, I tore ligaments in the top of my foot while tumbling on the gym floor," she said. "I was in a cast for three months because of that."

Injuries such as Sutherland's are not uncommon. According to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, cheerleading accidents accounted for 28,400 trips to the emergency room in 2004.

"I've been pretty lucky," said Sutherland of avoiding other injuries.

Once Sutherland wraps up her career as a cheerleader, the 20-year-old ECU junior hopes to have a career with her mother.

"I'm thinking of going into business with my mom because she works with U.S. Cellular," said the business marketing and management major. "We're talking about opening a store together."

Sutherland, however, said she would eventually like to return to the cheerleading field.

For now, Sutherland is looking forward to the game which she believes will be her most memorable moment on the field.

"All of the games have been the same up to now," she said. "Next year will be the last time I cheer on the field, so it'll probably be a little emotional."

For all the girls who strive to be like Sutherland, cheering on the sidelines in front of thousands of screaming fans, she has one piece of advice.

"Follow your dreams," she said. "That's how I got here."