We have been hearing some very inspiring Live Fearless stories. You may have seen our Live Fearless commercials, but we knew Live Fearless wasn’t something for us to solely define. North Carolinians have their own Live Fearless stories – how they live with the freedom to dream and believe. They live for the challenge. They live for the accomplishment.
Periodically, we will be sharing some here. Visit our Live Fearless site to learn more.
Dr. Louise Gooch, team captain of a cheerleading team of senior citizens from Durham, is very comfortable performing in front of a crowd after appearing with the team at monthly community and sporting events since 2004.
But Gooch, who is 71, was not always so at ease with performing in front of large crowds as part of the Durham Divas/Duke Cheerleaders, a group that she founded and that has now cart wheeled its way to six gold medals in the N.C. Senior Games.
Before the team’s first performance before thousands of people at a basketball tournament in Raleigh’s PNC Arena, she was fearful about cheering.
The Older You Get, the More Daring You Become
“I thought, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’ I kept saying, ‘We can’t do this. We are not that good.’ But the crowd went wild, and that did it,” she said. “That gave us so much confidence. In my earlier years, I never would have thought about starting a cheerleading squad. The older you get, the more daring you become.”
Gooch has a PhD and spent 31 years directing the nursing program at Durham Community College. She decided when she retired that she was going to do everything in life she had always wanted to do, but hadn’t yet achieved. Cheerleading was on that list. So was owning a sports car, which she bought in 2007. She also wants to take classes to learn how to drive a motorcycle; her son, however, is trying to dissuade her from doing that.
“Cheerleading was something that I always wanted to do. But I grew up on a farm, and I had to ride the bus home from high school every day,” she added. “That left little time for rehearsals.”
After high school, she studied nursing in college, and she didn’t have the time or money to join the cheerleading squad at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
The Divas Take Flight
She launched the Divas in February 2004 after seeing another team at a conference for the N.C. Senior Games. She floated the idea to some other seniors, and nine members signed up right away – none had ever been cheerleaders before. She recruited an aerobics instructor from a branch of the Triangle YMCA to coach them, and the Divas have been performing in the community ever since.
They have been recruited by America’s Got Talent, but shied away from the complicated contract that came along with that offer.
“We are in this for the fun; there is no stress involved. We have never asked anyone to allow us to perform.”
They do multiple performances a month year-round including parades, community events and sports competitions. They speak to students in local schools about the importance of being active when they perform in front of the children.
Their efforts have attracted attention from the medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the graduate school of nursing at Duke University. Both asked them to speak to their students to educate them about what senior citizens can do. “We try and erase some of the myths around senior citizens, like that we are not active, that we can’t get around. The inactivity myth is the biggest one.”
One year they performed with a hip hop group.
“I told them to come back the next year, and we are going to be spinning around on our heads too!”
At another charity event, they found themselves in the company of the North Carolina State University cheerleaders.
“We couldn’t throw each other up in the air like they do, but I told them, ‘We guarantee we can stay out on the floor and perform as long as you do.’ And we did. It was a delight.”
Gooch, who is an 11-year colon cancer survivor, revels in being able to do the splits, cartwheels and pyramids that the team executes in performances and competitions.
“As I lay in bed after the chemo, I prayed to get my strength back. Now, I have more energy than I have ever had in my life. Do what you dream about. Set a goal in your life and then get out there and make that dream come true. People always say ‘I can do that later. I have to wait and save for a rainy day.’ After you pass 50, it’s raining!”