By Stephanie Shapiro
Nurse keeps spirits up in the PICU and on NFL sidelines
No matter the score, the “First Ladies of Football” can’t let their smiles down. “That’s part of the job,” says Heather, RN, a co-captain of the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad. “We have to continue to try and pump up the fans even when the score isn’t in our favor. It’s a practiced skill.”
It’s also a skill that Heather* has mastered as a PICU nurse at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. As a home-grown Redskins fan, “It’s not easy to be happy when my team is not winning,” she says. Similarly, when obstacles arise for a patient in the PICU, “We still must try to uplift spirits by celebrating the small victories and do our best to be a light of positivity.”
Not that a loss can ever equate with a child’s illness, Heather says. “Win or lose, the players will all wake up the next day with their good health. There are kids here in the hospital who wish they could just play.”
It takes a level-headed commitment to hard work and play to combine a nursing career with cheerleading, a year-round endeavor that includes overseas tours to entertain American troops as well as tropical photo shoots for the annual Redskins Cheerleader Calendar. Heather’s childhood experiences on Maryland’s Eastern Shore became the blueprint for her double-down life. Growing up with her older sister and single mother, “I took on more of the caregiver role,” Heather says. “I always wanted to make sure that everyone was OK.”
”Win or lose, the players will all wake up the next day with their good health. There are kids here in the hospital who wish they could just play.”
A talent for dance and other movement arts also emerged early in life. “I began cheering when I was just 6 years old. I fell in love with the sport and as I continued to grow, so did my passion for performing. In high school, my hunger for more led me to competitive cheerleading and gymnastics.”
Heather says she enjoys the challenge of beat-heavy dance routines that draw on hip-hop, jazz, lyrical, and “even a little bit of tap.” For the 34-member Redskins squad’s calendar release party in August, Heather and her “sisters” were rehearsing a number choreographed to the hip-hop anthem “All the Way Up.” At a holiday meet-and-greet with troops and their families stationed in Bahrain, “I got to dress up and dance as Olaf, the snowman from Frozen,” Heather says.
Colleague Meghan Shackelford, MS, CRNP-AC, calls Heather an “incredible patient advocate” who can handle the complete range of cases in the PICU while mentoring new nurses. Those who dismiss Heather’s cheerleading career as “a cute little thing that you do on the side” don’t get it, Shackelford says. “Think of cheerleading as a sport that takes dedication, teamwork, and perseverance; all three are not just important but essential for working in the PICU.”
Some may argue that Heather’s grueling schedule could deprive her of any life. Naturally, she doesn’t agree. “If you told me I worked 80 hours a week, I wouldn’t believe you. I love both of my jobs so much for two completely different reasons. I don’t know if I could do one as well without the other.”
Editor’s note: The NFL requests that its professional cheerleaders’ last names not be published.