By Eugenio Torrens
There were times it didn’t seem Leah Rios would be able to achieve her dream.
The Wiregrass Ranch cheerleader suffered back-to-back injuries in her fourth year of high school that could have ended her ability to compete.
Instead Rios persevered and became the first in the Bulls’ six-year history to sign a cheerleading scholarship on March 29. She will attend Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo., an NAIA program in the Heart of America Conference.
Rios said the decision wasn’t too hard once she visited and saw the school’s academic standards as well as the smaller teacher-to-student ratio and of course the fact that the college offered her a scholarship.
“With college, because cheerleading is an evolving sport, it’s an amazing accomplishment, not only for her — but for cheerleading in general,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Kara Babij. “She’s making her dream come true.”
At points along her dream Rios could have slipped into a nightmare.
Last August Rios fractured her C1 vertebrae, the uppermost bone along the spine that helps connect it with the skull, on a botched landing doing a standing back handspring tuck.
Rios suffered another injury eight weeks later, this time fracturing her hand.
“That was really, really hard for me. Cheering is my passion,” Rios said.
She bounced back in time to compete in the spring season.
“She’s just an amazing, amazing person,” Babij said. “She came back every single time.”
For Rios, not coming back was not an option.
“I was like ‘No, I’m going to cheer,’” Rios said. “’I want to cheer. This is what I want to do.’ I’m just going to put this aside and keep moving forward.”
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