How My High School Cheerleading Fail Saved My Life

“Did I actually NOT break my neck?”

That was the question running through my mortified, adrenalin-fueled body, as I avoided the pitying glances from the entire cheerleading squad. 

Every bone in my body was screaming at me to go back home. 

Into bed. 

Where I could hide out under my covers and eat Snickers for the rest of my life. 

(Or until the humiliation blew over.) 

I’d fallen on my head. Twice. And there was STILL one more back handspring for me to do…and all those cheerleaders waiting for me. To fail.

Looking back at this moment―decades later―I can tell you, my epic fail as a high school cheerleader was one of the biggest, most humiliating moments of my entire life.

However, it also saved my life. 

Join me in today’s vlog, as we discuss how LITERALLY falling on my head taught me one of the MOST important life lessons.

And it still serves me to this day. That’s why I want to share it with you right here, so you can stop letting fear hold you back…even when you land upside down. Because as dream-chasing women, we will always have to face fear to reach our dreams.

For my teenage self, that dream came with pom-poms and a cute, pleated mini skirt. 

Let’s blame it on Texas. 

I grew up in the heart of the Bible Belt and Friday Night Lights. Here, football was king. My public high school was obsessed with our football players, homecoming and, of course, our cheerleaders.

I actually was a cheerleader already. Starting from eighth grade, I moved my way through middle school and high school to becoming a Junior Varsity cheerleader. Now, at the end of 10th grade, high school stardom was finally within reach. 

It was time to apply for Varsity. 

And that’s when they changed the rules. 

That year, the football deities made a new requirement. A standing back handspring. 

Poof, went my dream.

I was never great at tumbling. Gymnastics was only something I’d taken in elementary school, and, sure, I tumbled, but it wasn’t my strength. 

I was a soccer player. A soccer player who dreamed of being a cheerleader. 

So, why was this teenage soccer player forcing herself into a cheerleader sized box?

Two words. Popular Girl. 

I wanted to be accepted and liked and part of the “in crowd.” When I closed my eyes, all I saw was this stereotypical, fairy-tale high school cheerleader from the movies.

And. I. Was. Going. To. Be. Her.

No back handspring was ever gonna stop me. With renewed conviction and a whole lot of teenage stubbornness I somehow managed to talk my parents into gymnastics lessons and hiring a private coach a few months before tryouts. 

Imagine a line of ten-year-old girls gracefully flipping through the air. Perfection, right? 

Now, picture me, a foot taller and at least six years older, the coach propping up my back as I clumsily try to get my feet over my head…and not die. I was a total oddball, yet, I was willing to go through all that embarrassment in order to master the skill and get the job done. 

These were skills I should have learned at a much earlier stage in life, before I was afraid of jumping backwards and propelling myself through the air. 

(There’s a very good reason you learn those skills as a little kid, when you think you’re immortal.)

Somehow, I  FINALLY learned to do a running back handspring on a gymnastics wedge and on soft ground (albeit with the coach right there spotting my back.) But it wasn’t consistent. And it most certainly wasn’t reliable. 

Fast forward to my crash landing.

I KNEW I could do a running back handspring. I’d done it in my home, my backyard and the school yard. I was actually doing one pretty consistently, but I wasn’t able to really do the standing back handspring without the help of my coach―just putting his hand there―to give me confidence. 

So when tryouts rolled around, the odds were against me. 

There I was. In the middle of the firing squad, where the entire Varsity squad stood with their clipboards ready to score me. Just before I took off, I told myself these words, “I am not going to live the rest of my life, wondering ‘what if.’ Either I’m going to land on my head, or I’m going to make it. But I’m never gonna to say I didn’t try.”

Well, girl, I landed on my head.

Not once, not twice, but THREE times in a row! 

To say I was humiliated would be the understatement of the century. Thank God, they didn’t actually laugh me out of the gym. I was barely able to hold myself together as I backed away before bursting into full blown ugly crying. 

I laid in my bed with the covers over my head, wallowing in my own self pity and embarrassment and utter humiliation for what seemed like days, before sending my mom up to the school to check the roster to confirm what I already knew. 

She read the public roster of who had made the squad. 

No, my name wasn’t there. This is real life. Not Hollywood! 

And you know what? It didn’t kill me. 

Falling on my face in front of all those cool girls I looked up to as my “role models” didn’t kill me. In fact, it made me stronger. This was the moment I learned to never let the fear of failure stop me. Moreover, I learned that if I really wanted to succeed in life, to achieve my purpose and stretch my limits, I couldn’t live ruled by fear. There’s this old saying I love, “if you want to be liked, sell ice cream.” 

But, I don’t want to be liked anymore. 

I want to step into greatness, test my limits, master new skills, and cover new ground. All of that involves risk. And risk involves failure. 

There are no guarantees in life, except for maybe Walmart’s return policy. No matter how much you use or ruin it, somehow they always take it back. But that’s not real life. We can’t live with a full 100% return policy on tomorrow. 

Back when I was a kid, I used to follow my dad around the house with this big laundry list of all the things I want to be and see and do and have and become. 

And he used to say:
“Well, little dreamer, as long as you’re dreaming, you may as well dream big.”

If you really want to dream big, talk big, walk big, live big, it means that you’re also going to fail big. 

And that’s okay. Because success is not determined by whether or not you fall down. It’s determined by whether or not you get back up. 

Think of this acronym of fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. The more you lean into fear, the more your fears will dissipate. And then what are you left with? You’re left with the experience, skills, confidence, strength, and the sheer grit that comes from pushing through those fears.

This is not something that comes naturally to me. 

I used to be deathly afraid of failure. In fact, I was really afraid of what other people thought about me! I can’t even tell you how many years I wasted living based on other people’s perceptions of me, or what I was assuming were their perceptions of me. 

But I’m done with all that. 

Today, much of my daily inner dialogue is all about pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And guess what, I still have to ask myself―multiple times per day―do I want to be comfortable, or do I want to step into my greatness and find out what I’m really, truly made of? 

Here’s what I want you to know. 

Greatness is not a personality trait. It’s a birthright. For every single one of us. And whether or not you tap into it is wholly up to you. 

So, tell me. Are you willing to dig through the dirt, mine all that coal in order to discover your own inner diamonds? 

Hint. It’s all waiting for you on the other side of your fear.

Looking for more?




Chaya Ben-Shabat
Chaya is a mom, entrepreneur, success coach, athlete, student, dreamer, and world traveler.   She is also the founder and CEO of an up-and-coming international school system, designed to revolutionize global education.  She works with highly determined women to help them bust through their obstacles, discover and channel their inner superpowers, and master the tools and skills necessary to design and create the life of their dreams.

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