PEPPER PIKE, Ohio — On Wednesday evening, a local 7-year-old girl who loves gymnastics received a heartwarming gesture—becoming a part of the Ursuline College STUNT Team with an adorable signing day.
The Ursuline Arrows STUNT Team is a growing group. In its first year as an NCAA program, the high-intensity sport combines elements of cheerleading and gymnastics with its athletes executing tosses, pyramids, jumps and tumbles. It takes a high level of skill and athleticism, which the Arrows can see blossoming within the team as they continue to work together.
"We have grown so much as a team from the beginning of the year, from last year to what we are now. And every practice we're growing, we're gaining new skills. People are going in the air that haven't been in the air before, people are basing who haven't based before and being rockstars at it," said Ursuline STUNT flyer Brittney Diekman.
The group is forming bonds with each other as they prepare for competitions and game days, enjoying watching the team grow, as the sport does as well. That growth expanded in a special way on Wednesday as the team added a very special player to their roster.
Natalie, a local 7-year-old girl, arrived at the college campus with her family for a very special signing day. One of Natalie's favorite things in the world is gymnastics. In fact, it's been a bright spot for her as she goes through treatments for a rare disease she was diagnosed with as a toddler.
When Natalie was around four years old, she was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a disease that affects around 1 in 100,000 people. It's so rare it can be difficult to diagnose. The disease causes skin issues, muscle weakness and other symptoms—but that hasn't stopped Natalie from remaining passionate about gymnastics.
"[My favorite part is] getting to go up in the air," Natalie said.
While doing treatments, Natalie's mom, Pam, was told about an opportunity through Team IMPACT, an organization that matches children facing serious illness and disability with college sports teams.
"So the nurses were like, 'well, we know about this program she might wanna be part of and I told them when they called me that she was in gymnastics and hoped that we could do cheerleading or gymnastics," Pam said.
With Ursuline College just a short drive from their home, connecting with the Arrows' STUNT Team was a perfect fit.
On Wednesday, Natalie and her family arrived at the college and were greeted by the STUNT Team, who made a cheer tunnel for them to walk through. Natalie was led into the gym and up to a conference room where a special signing day event was held. Natalie met with the players before sitting and signing her "letter of intent" and becoming an official member of the team.
"I'm so happy to be here," Natalie said.
As she signed her name, Natlalie was celebrated with a flurry of silly string, cheers and applause. Her laughter filled the room before her next surprise—a gift bag full of Ursuline Arrows gear, candy and treats.
That gear will come in handy.
"Now that she is an arrow, she's going to get to do some of the higher level stunting with our girls—very safely, of course. Whatever she's comfortable with," said head STUNT coach Tracy Zarzour. "We already had some progress in our first practice. She went up in the air and sounds like she had a really good time doing it."
Now, Natalie won't be competing at the college level just yet. Maybe in a few years. For now, she'll get to learn from the STUNT Team, work on her gymnastics, be with the team on game days and participate in some fun team bonding (like building gingerbread houses with the girls).
Natalie and her family are excited to be a part of the STUNT Team.
"I hope it keeps her in gymnastics and helps her to see where she can go with it because it's really good for her treatment and with her muscles and keeping her muscle strength up," Pam said.
The Arrows are just as happy to welcome the smallest member of the team, with a big passion for gymnastics, to their family as well.
"To be an Arrow is to be part of a family. And for Natalie that means becoming part of this family," said STUNT Team base Elise Kensick. "I know a lot of teams say that we're family but it's just different with us. It's really truly a family. We argue like siblings but we also love like siblings and we're super excited to have Natalie joining us and genuinely become part of our family."