Cheerleader with cerebral palsy making a difference

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HERMANN - Cheerleading takes a lot of effort and sweat as girls cheer on their team to beat the opponent. One Hermann High School cheerleader is beating the odds while cheering along the way.

Amy Engelbrecht is a senior cheerleader at Hermann High School. During the first year after Amy was born, her parents discovered she had cerebral palsy.

"That was probably the toughest news I've ever gotten," said Tim Englebrecht, Amy's dad.

Cerebral palsy is a permanent physical disability, causing difficulties to body movements. It has a wide-ranging impact on people as one person might have weakness in their hand, another could have stiffness in their arms and someone else might have little to no control over their speech. It's a case-by-case disorder.

Teah Kelly is the Hermann cheerleading coach and has been with the program for two years now. She said teaching Amy has made her a better coach.

"When I first realized that Amy had cerebral palsy, well, I am a special education tracher, so I knew a little bit about it," Kelly said. "I didn't know how it affected Amy. I didn't know if it was cognitively or physically.

"When we get a new girl on the squad or someone that's not as familiar with Amy and cerebral palsy, they think of it more that she's cognitively affected, and Amy's absolutely not.

Amy has a 20-year-old sister, Rachael Engelbrecht, who understands what Kelly is saying.

"What's tough is sometimes how other people might treat her," Rachael said. "Most the time by now, they know how to treat her, but they treat her disability and they don't see her first. That's what's most hard, and we have to explain it to them, but she's good at explaining it by herself now."

"She's different and sometimes it's hard," said Lisa Engelbrecht, Amy's mom. "The kids don't always realize it's not that she is mentally different, it's just the way things come out."

Four years ago, Amy discovered cheerleading, even though it was tough on her mom.

"It was very hard for her, which is always upsetting for me, when things are hard for her," Lisa said. "But she persevered and was determined that she was going to be, to do what the other kids did, and she always kept up."

For Amy, this was more than just an after-school activity. It has become a type of therapy for her.

"I feel amazing," Amy said. "All my cares and worries of the day just go away."

Amy's dad said this isn't the first time in her life Amy has taken on a challenge and excelled.

"Every time we though there was a hurdle, that there's no way in the world this child could overcome, she proved the world wrong," Tim said. "And did it times ten."

One of these challenges came in the first few years of cheerleading. Amy quickly became interested in stunting, when one of the cheerleaders is held up in the air. Amy's mom struggled again with Amy's new interest.

"It was really hard for me and scary when she wanted to do the stunts," Lisa said. "She wanted to go up in the air, and I said, ‘You're going to come down and you're going to be stiff when you come down and they're not going to be able to catch you.' She's very persistent in, ‘I want to go up, I want to go up.' So, we finally agreed that she could do it.'

Now, Amy does a stunt at least once every football game.

"A couple years of begging, then everyone finally let me do it," Amy said with a smile.

As Amy has grown up, she's shown her natural leadership on a national stage. Amy was one of three girls awarded the outstanding leadership honor through the national cheerleaders association. For those around her in Hermann, Amy's spirit is contagious.

"She never has a bad day, which is awesome," said Katrina Horn, Amy's best friend. "And I look up to her for that."

Anything she wants to do, she'll set her mind to it and she'll get it done," Rachael said. "And that's just one of the things I love most about her."

"You never know what's going to happen next with her," Lisa said. "We're always in awe of her."

"If I have anything in my life that I think there's no way I can overcome, I look at her," Tim said. "It makes everything possible. It's going to be a fun lifetime watching her grow and just see where she's going to go."

"I think that she is just a beautiful lady and she's going to do whatever it is she wants to do," Kelly said. "When she leaves, I hope that there's someone ready to take her shoes. It's going to be big shoes to fill."

Amy is simply ready for the next challenge in life.

"Cerebral Palsy is just a hurdle to jump over, not a barrier," Amy said.

Amy will travel to London with the National Cheerleaders Association this upcoming summer. She plans to one day become a pediatric neurologist and help kids who have cerebral palsy.