PCHS cheerleader will use unique experience to help others

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 2, 2016


Polk County High School sophomore Elyse Noland has been a cheerleader since middle school. She’s traveled with sports teams and has made lots of friends, but late this past June, she and her mother, Kimberly Noland, received a phone call that changed Elyse’s life, and provided a new level of experience, challenge, and belief in herself.

The call was from a director of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

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They don’t know how the producer got her name, Elyse said, but she remembers her surprise at being asked to audition for a spot in the parade, performing a cheer dance.

“My dream was to see the Macy’s Parade,” Elyse said, and after a successful audition in which Polk cheerleading coach Elisa Flynn helped her, she was in. “That surprised me,” she added.

Maybe Elyse shouldn’t have been surprised.

In a way, she followed the dream of millions of young women. After Kimberly drove her to the airport, Elyse boarded a plane and flew by herself to New York City, performed with some 400 cheerleaders and 1,700 dancers from around the country, enjoyed many of the city’s attractions, and returned to her native Polk County, her career dream re-enforced.

According to one traditional script, none of this was supposed to happen. However, Elyse didn’t read − or certainly did not believe − that script.

Instead, the bright and accomplished young woman, who was born premature (at one pound, nine ounces) and with cerebral palsy, has, with lots of help from Kimberly, but also with an inner belief in herself, defied the predictions of medical professionals who claimed she’d never walk or talk. 

“My mom helped me a lot and put me in speech therapy, physical therapy,” Elyse noted. “If I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t be talking at all.” Today, Elyse still receives speech therapy, but not physical therapy. In addition to Kimberly, Elyse said that her maternal grandparents have also helped her greatly.

 After Elyse was born, she made many return visits to the hospital for treatment. Initially her mother was scared to hold her due to her diminutive size and unusually delicate skin.

Elyse’s philosophy of “Just put your mind to it” has crushed some doctors’ predictions, including that she’d be unable to walk or talk, and would be blind and deaf.

“At times, the doctors told me I couldn’t do this. I proved them wrong. I pushed myself hard,” Elyse said.

So wrong were those doctors, that not only does Elyse cheer, but once basketball season is over, along with its cheering requirements, she’ll be on the track team, competing in the 200- and 500-meter runs and the high jump.

But, back to New York City, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the week’s other activities, once she landed at the airport, Elyse took a bus to the hotel, where she met her California roommates who would also participate in the parade.

In the parade, Elyse and her companions were on a green carpet, performing cheerleading dances for about one and one-half miles of marching. The temperature was cold, she said, and she dressed warmly and enjoyed hot chocolate and soups to keep warm.

Elyse was in New York City a full week by herself. While there, she watched live performances by singer/actor Joe Jonas and comedian/TV host/actor/singer/writer Jimmy Fallon.

“I went to see the 9/11 Museum, the Rockettes, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building,” she recounted, adding that she also saw Trump Tower.

 And of course, she shopped at Macy’s. “It was nine stories. It was big!”

 Elyse was not impressed by the abrupt pace of the city, where she observed that people were “rude,” and that they walked very fast, seemingly oblivious to those around them. Another observation she had was that items, which on television appear vary large like the ball that drops on New Year’s  Eve, and one particular ice-skating rink, actually appear much smaller in person.

 “I have been out of the country,” Elyse said, “but being in the city was a new thing.”

 Did she miss anything by being away from home Thanksgiving week?

 “I missed Thanksgiving food. I ate a turkey sandwich and Pringles on Thanksgiving Day,” she said, but she and her new friends also purchased food on the street, and followed their noses to a selection of Chinese food.

 During the week, Elyse also got to meet professional cheerleaders—the NFL cheerleaders who served as chaperones for the week.

“My roommates were competitive cheerleaders. You don’t get to see that every day,” Elyse said.

 “I will be going back next year to perform until I graduate from high school,” she promised, about cheering in the parade. She would also like to cheer in college. She’ll experience more of what that’s like when she cheers with members of Gardner-Webb University one weekend this coming March.

When Elyse returned to Polk County a woman asked her if she would help out with the Miss Amazing Pageant, a non-traditional pageant for girls and women age five and up, with disabilities. The non-profit Miss Amazing Organization operates about 30 state pageants.

 “It’s about special needs kids,” Elyse said, “so they have a chance to be a star.” She said she will not be in the pageant but will help out. 

Elyse plans to become a special needs teacher one day. “I always wanted to be a special needs teacher,” Elyse said.

Based on her experiences and an early hard life where she successfully confronted challenges, she’ll no doubt help many students believe in themselves.