- Associated Press - Sunday, October 8, 2017

KINGFISHER, Okla. (AP) - The fight song starts up, and so do a couple dozen girls in the blue and gold of Kingfisher High.

Arms extend. Hands clap.

Legs kick. Bodies spin.

Cora Beth Taylor knows every move by heart, but she only does some. The claps. The arms. The rest is too risky for the spunky blonde.

She has cerebral palsy.

When the other girls on the cheer squad kick, she smiles. When they spin, she smiles.

“It may be different,” Cora Beth says, “but I’m doing it.”

The Oklahoman reports that Kingfisher is a football town, and even though the focus is on the field, the fabric of Friday nights goes well beyond the teams. It includes the parents and the bands, the students and the fans. And in this rural community halfway between Oklahoma City and Enid, the tapestry includes Cora Beth.

The cheerleader who uses a walker.

“When she’s out there, I think people see past the walker,” her mom said the other day as the cheer team practiced. “She’s just like every other girl out there. She’s trying to figure out who to be friends with. She’s trying to figure out who to go with to the dance.”

Cora Beth is one of them - and like none of them. She overcame so much to be part of this team.

Cora Beth was born a triplet.

Along with brothers Will and Tate, she arrived prematurely at 30 weeks and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. But when Cora Beth and her brothers left the hospital, they did so with a good prognosis.

All seemed in good health.

But after the triplets had been home several months, Beth and Kevin Taylor started noticing that Cora Beth wasn’t doing some of the same things as her brothers. She wasn’t showing the same level of development.

At the triplets’ 12-month check-up, the doctors told the Taylors not to worry; that babies develop at different speeds and that Cora Beth might just be a bit behind Will and Tate.

But by the triplets’ 15-month check-up, Beth and Kevin were convinced that something else was going on.

A neurologist in Dallas confirmed their suspicions and diagnosed Cora Beth’s cerebral palsy.

The neurological disorder affects body movement and muscle coordination, and in Cora Beth’s case, her biggest issue is balance. She can lose it with no warning. No cause either.

But neither that nor the walker she uses to help avoid falls has slowed her down.

She has played t-ball, danced, sang, competed in pageants, ridden horses and performed in musical theater. But after joining the special-needs cheer squad at Empire Elite in Bethany when she was barely old enough for school, she found her love.

Cheer pushed her physically, a vital aspect of all her activities, especially after several significant surgeries and procedures that she’s had. But cheer also helped her work on balance, flexibility and strength, all of which can be hindered by cerebral palsy.

Cheer stretched her mentally, too. She never thought she would be able to stand on people’s hands, but once she did so without falling, it seemed anything might be possible.

But best of all, cheer made her feel like she was part of something bigger than herself.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t do things,” she said. “I used to just have to sit and watch.”

Lots of times, her brothers did things while she watched. Not so with cheer.

“It makes me feel free,” she said.

Last winter at a basketball game, Cora Beth decided to ask Kingfisher cheer coach Tiffanie Barnett what she could do to start preparing for tryouts.

Cora Beth had decided she wanted to be a high school cheerleader. She was in eighth grade at the time, so Barnett had never met her. As they sat in the stands at the basketball game, Barnett told Cora Beth what to expect.

“Sharp motions,” the coach said. “Tumbling. Jumps.”

Cora Beth nodded.

“Well, you see, I can’t tumble and jump,” she said, “because I have cerebral palsy.”

Cora Beth knew there was a chance she wouldn’t make the team. Kingfisher’s squad is competitive, meaning it doesn’t just cheer at games. It also goes to competitions around the area and state.

Not being able to do all the flips and the twists might be a deal breaker.

But Cora Beth focused on what she could do. Sharp motions. Energy. Spirit.

And yes, that smile.

“She excelled in the other areas,” Barnett said.

That energy and spirit has remained. When the team met every morning at 6:30 this summer, Cora Beth was always there ready to work. She couldn’t lift the same weights. She couldn’t run the same miles. But that didn’t stop her from trying.

“What can I do?” became a familiar refrain.

Even though being one of the girls on the cheer squad who aren’t part the smaller competition team has been tough, Cora Beth has relished the experience. Riding the bus to away games, being on the sideline and seeing fans join their cheers.

But the thing she loves most is being part of a team.

“This might not be a very big deal to some people,” she said, “but I never thought I’d have something with my last name on it.”

Her brothers have tons of jerseys and uniforms with their names on the back - football, basketball, baseball - always with their names.

Not Cora Beth.

When Barnett announced that the cheer squad was getting bags with their names on them, Cora Beth nearly flipped out.

“To be able … to wear something that resembles a team and have my name on it,” she said, “that’s so cool to me.”

She belongs.

On Friday nights, Cora Beth shines. The big bow in her hair. The shiny poms in her hands. The broad smile on her face.

Little children are drawn to her.

Sure, she notices that some of them eye her walker. They don’t quite know what to make of the contraption with the bars and the wheels.

But it doesn’t take long before they get past the walker. Before they ask her to take a picture with them. Before they want a hug.

“When those little kids look at me, they don’t see a girl with a walker,” Cora Beth said. “They see a cheerleader.

“I love being thought of that way.”

Earlier this season, one little girl walked up to Cora Beth with a message.

“I want to be just like you one day.”

Things aren’t always easy for Cora Beth. Just last week after the football game, for instance, she tried to turn around too quickly and took a tumble that skinned up her knee something fierce. There were panicked friends. There was lots of blood.

Cora Beth was most worried about the new white shoes she was wearing.

“Prop up my leg!” she shouted.

She didn’t want any blood on those shoes.

Even when there are struggles, Cora Beth knows she’s already come through so much. That’s why she’s set two big goals, aside from the ultimate one of becoming a doctor. She wants to be on the competition cheer team at Kingfisher for at least one year and she wants to graduate high school without having to use her walker.

So what comes next for Cora Beth Taylor once football is done?

“Basketball,” she said, that smile spreading across her face once again.

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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