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franklin county times

Former RBHS cheerleader pursuing her dreams

Former Red Bay cheerleader Laken Elliott is living her life-long dream of being a cheerleader at the University of Alabama.
Former Red Bay cheerleader Laken Elliott is living her life-long dream of being a cheerleader at the University of Alabama.

One Red Bay native can claim something that very few people can – she is a two-time national champion.

Laken Elliott, 21, a 2011 graduate of Red Bay High School, was part of back-to-back national cheerleading championship teams at Shelton State Community College in 2012 and 2013. The following year, as a member of the cheerleading team at the University of Alabama, she was part of a squad that finished as the national runner-up.

Competing against the best cheerleading squads across the country on an annual basis would be enough for some people, but for Elliott, it was all just part of her pursuit to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“I always wanted to cheer at Alabama,” she said. “Ever since I could walk, I wanted to be on the sideline and cheer for Alabama.”

Following years of driving to and from lessons in Fulton and Corinth, Miss., Elliott was awarded a cheerleading scholarship to powerhouse Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa.

During her two years there, Elliott was part of two of the school’s current seven-year national championship winning streak.

“That was incredible,” she said. “Our biggest competition each year was against ourselves to see how we could do against the previous year. In my second year, they filmed our routine for ESPN.”

With two national championships on her resume, Elliott then began the pursuit of her dream – becoming a cheerleader for the Crimson Tide.

Each cheerleader at Alabama has to try out for the squad and Elliott was chosen as a member of the all-girl team for the 2013-2014 season.

“That was so exciting,” she said. “It was something that I had always wanted to do. I think I cried the first time we ran out of the tunnel on to the field. It just gives me chills now to think about what it’s like looking up into the stands and seeing all of those people.”

Like with most things, her dream required a great deal of hard work and sacrifice.

“(UA strength) Coach Cochran was at all of our 4 a.m. workouts screaming at us just like he does the football team,” she said with a laugh. “He pushed us to be the best.”

And sometimes, there was a little pain from more than just the workouts.

Elliott suffered a concussion last season just days before one of the season’s biggest football games – a home game against the LSU Tigers – when she was dropped from the top of a routine.

“The trainers wouldn’t let me perform for the (ESPN) College GameDay show, so I was upset about that,” she said. “And I didn’t think they were going to let me be on the sideline for the game, but they cleared me right before it.”

The hard work paid off in the spring when the squad became the first UA all-girl team to participate in the national cheerleading championships on ESPN.

“We finished second in the nation so we were very excited, especially being the first all-girl team to participate,” she said.

After three years of high-level competition, Elliott was faced with making some tough decisions following the spring semester.

Having already completed enough courses towards her major, Elliott had to decide whether to spend one more year cheering and taking elective courses or move on and pursue her nursing degree.

“I knew I couldn’t stay just to cheer,” she said. “I have always wanted to be a nurse anesthetist so I applied for three schools – South Alabama, Alabama and UAB – and was accepted to all three.”

She chose to attend the University of Alabama-Birmingham and will begin classes this month.

“I have always wanted to be a nurse and just help people and make a difference in their lives,” she said. “I want to make a career out of helping people.”

A class trip as a high school senior created one more goal that she hopes to one day achieve.

“I took a tour of St. Jude Children’s Hospital when I was a senior and it made such an impact on me that my goal is to work there one day,” she said.

“I would love to be able to work them and help them and make them feel better,” Elliott said.

And for someone who has chased so many goals already, there’s no reason to believe that she won’t one day be there as well.