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Swansea coach leads Welsh team to cheerleading gold

A Swansea coach has helped lead a Welsh team to glory at a major global cheerleading championships in the USA.

Cheerleading gold

Gemma Whyley was one of two coaches involved with the Welsh Paracheer Unified Freestyle Pom team that won gold at the ICU International Cheerleading and Dance World Championships held in Orlando, Florida. The team's other coach, Sabrina Steele-Mountjoy, who's originally from the USA, now lives in Church Village, just outside Pontypridd. 

Twenty-five per cent of the team - the first ever from Wales to win at the championships - is made up of young athletes with physical disabilities.

Gemma, who works as a transformation officer at Swansea Council, has been involved in cheerleading for the last 10 years, having first discovered the sport at Middlesex University, where she studied for a degree in dance.

Originally from Cwmllynfell, Gemma, aged 28, is a former pupil of Bishop Vaughan Comprehensive School in Swansea.

"A lot of people tend to associate cheerleading with America and sports like American Football, but competitive cheerleading is quite different," said Gemma. "It's very athletic and dramatic, and utilises lots of aspects more commonly associated with gymnastics. 

"I was initially drawn to cheerleading at university because of the social aspect, but it's become my passion. There's a real team ethos in the sport, and it teaches people who take part a lot of self-discipline. Sport is very much part of our culture in Swansea and across South Wales as a whole, so I'm very much backing Swansea's bid for UK City of Culture 2021. The team-working aspect of sport also definitely helps me in the workplace too, because my job means I work very closely with staff in a number of different departments at Swansea Council. 

"Now being considered for inclusion at the Olympics in future, cheerleading is among the fastest growing sports in the UK."

At the championships, which were held in the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, a number of Welsh teams competed in several different categories against other elite talent from countries including America, Mexico and China.

The Welsh Paracheer Unified Freestyle Pom team won top place in their division, despite only forming towards the end of last year.

Gemma, who also competed at the championships as part of Welsh teams in other divisions, said: "The build-up from January this year was pretty intense, with daily training in the gym and everything else that accompanies the team, including securing sponsorship and raising our profile.

"But all the hard work paid off in the end. It's an honour to represent your country at such a high level, and winning Wales' ever first gold in cheerleading was a dream come true. As well as a trophy, each member of the team also got a championship ring and a gold medal, so it's something we'll all remember for the rest of our lives."

The SportCheer Wales board, which supports the growth of cheerleading and dance in Wales, is now looking forward to next year's championships, with a workshop planned for Saturday June 24 for any athletes who may be interested in taking up the sport. 

Email or search for Team Wales Cheer or Team Wales Paracheer on social media to find out more. 

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