BOSSIER CITY, La. — Chloe Cannon was born a Louisiana girl through and through, growing up in a nice neighborhood in north Bossier in the northwestern part of Louisiana — a state where sports rule and cheerleaders reign. As with many young girls, when she was not yet even old enough to go to school, her parents figured she was old enough to start playing sports.
Chloe really exhibited no interest in soccer or swimming, and she wasn’t particularly inclined to music or ballet. But yet she always wanted to tumble — somersaults all over the house, attempted cartwheels around the yard. She was little, nimble and flexible, so her parents enrolled her in tumbling.
Tumbling as a preschooler led into gymnastics as she entered grade school. And she and her parents were all-in. At age 5, younger than anyone else in her group, she entered competitive gymnastics. Because she had the build, the agility and the desire, Chloe became quite talented very rapidly. Two afternoons a week turned into four evenings a week. Family weekends were soon devoted to traveling to state and regional meets.
Young Chloe went from level three to level four to level five. And with the progression to each new level came more intense competition. Chloe discovered she was quite competitive. By the third grade she started attending summer gymnastics camps at the University of Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide, the beloved team of the Cannon family.
By all accounts, Chloe was destined to be a star. In the fifth grade, now at level eight, her parents found her a top-ranked and renown gym two hours away. She loved it — the practices, the thrill of the chase. But the highs and lows of competitive youth gymnastics started to take a toll. She soon started attending that same gym “school” in which she would attend academic classes from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and train in gymnastics two hours early in the morning before school and four hours in the late afternoon.
Her gymnastics started to become all consuming, but slowly and very subtly, cracks started to appear. Chloe started to pull back. As is typical of many her age, she loved her junk food. When the coaches spoke to the team about well-balanced diets high in protein and low in carbs, Chloe smiled in agreement, but inwardly decided to not forego her beloved snacks. The commute got rather tiresome, leaving at 5 a.m. to drive the two hours and then returning home every night.
Did Chloe really have a life? Was she still truly enjoying the sacrifices required of a young competitive gymnast in training? Or did she long to have an easier life with friends after school, sleepovers on Saturday nights, boys to chase, weekends at the mall?
It certainly wasn’t without words, arguments and fights. But the uncomfortable conversations with her family ensued and Chloe, finally with the support of her parents, quit gymnastics. She enrolled in public school — the middle school closest to her house.
And at her new school, she discovered that her training in gymnastics could parlay into a talent for cheerleading. Transitioning to a new sport can be a daunting undertaking, especially when you’ve just switched schools and are met every day with a sea of new faces. Would she be pretty enough or popular enough to make the squad?
Clearly cheerleading has developed over the past decades into a whole new dimension. A sport unto itself. It’s not just pretty faces and pom poms. Cheerleading requires skill, athleticism and stamina. She found that the agility acquired from years in gymnastics would springboard well into the skills demanded of today’s cheerleaders.
Her first year at Cope Middle School, Chloe auditioned for and was selected as a cheerleader for the Cope Cougars. Tuesday and Thursday night football games under the lights in the fall led into winter evening basketball games at gymnasiums throughout northwest Louisiana.
But through cheerleading, seventh grade Chloe was able to have a normal life and truly be a kid. Off to the homes of friends, out chasing boys, evenings spent on the Louisiana Boardwalk, weekend trips with girlfriends to Dallas.
Chloe felt more free to experience her childhood being a normal 12-year-old, although it certainly wasn’t without a tinge of guilt.
“I know my parents spent a ton of money on my gymnastics, taking me to camps, traveling to weekend meets all over the Southeast,” Chloe said. “And I really appreciate that. But what means the most to me is that I can now just be a normal kid and have fun with my friends.”
As happens in the home of many young promising athletes, sometimes uncomfortable decisions have to be made. As is the case with Chloe Cannon, there comes a time with every young athlete when you just have to follow your own path.