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August 12, 2010

Texas two-step: Pre-med student becomes NFL squad’s first Jewish cheerleader

http://www.jewishjournal.com/sports/article/texas_two-step_pre-med_student_becomes_nfl_squads_first_jewish_cheerleader_

It’s a safe bet to assume that there are more Jewish doctors than NFL cheerleaders.

Michelle Lewis, 21, is on the way to becoming both.

Lewis, a native of Bellaire, Texas, already has passed the first test—she was chosen for the Houston Texans cheerleaders, making the final cut from a field of more than 500 women who tried out in April.

Her next challenge soon will follow, as the pre-med student wraps up her four-year degree at St. Thomas University next year before taking the medical boards and applying to medical schools.

Lewis is the only known Jewish cheerleader in team history, according to Texans cheerleading programs manager Alto Gary, and definitely the first who hopes to be delivering babies as an obstetrician/gynecologist after she retires her pompoms.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point—it’s very challenging, both school and making the Texans,” Lewis said. “I’m definitely glad to represent the Jews on the team. I’m enjoying every moment of it.”

Except for perhaps that moment when she was sitting at Texans headquarters anxiously waiting for her number to be called as the final team of 29 girls was announced.

“It was real nerve-racking because it came down to that final moment,” Lewis said. “I had mentally prepared for a year and then physically prepared for several months.

She added, “I had my parents waiting out in the parking lot in case I didn’t make it.”

Lewis didn’t have to wait long: Her No. 32 was the sixth number called as the announcements were made live on Texans TV.

“Michelle really gained my attention with her determination and poise,” Gary said. “She is a beautiful person inside and out and has been a
great addition to the team. I’m excited for her.”

Lewis was excited, too, but had to keep temper some of her emotions as she was surrounded by those who tried out but did not make the squad.

“I let out a little shriek, but I couldn’t really celebrate too much right there,” Lewis said. “I felt my eyes water up, but I didn’t really cry.”

Keeping that even keel could pay off for Lewis in the medical field, something she really is looking forward to.

“I want to be an OB/GYN because I feel like that’s the one field in medicine that a doctor can experience it all and more,” Lewis said. “You can experience the physician aspect of medicine when performing annual woman wellness exams. You can work with diseases and viruses if faced with an STD patient. And you can also perform surgery.

“And on top of all of that, you get to deliver babies—the one thing that no other field of medicine enables you to do.”

While Lewis finishes up her pre-med requirements, she will take advantage of her opportunity with the Texans. It is something she has been building toward her entire life.

While she didn’t really decide on wanting to be a doctor until she entered college three years ago, Lewis has known since she was little that she wanted to be a dancer.

In the first grade she took ballet and tap classes at the local JCC, as well as piano lessons and gymnastics.

“In third grade I was falling off the balance beam, and I had to pick one—so I picked dance and really stuck with it,” she said.

Together with Lewis all the way has been her twin sister, Rachel, who also is into dancing—more on the ballet side—and also hopes to apply to medical school. Rachel was interested in trying out for the Texans as well, but ended up keeping her focus on school.

“It’s always great to have that person there, your best friend, for support,” Lewis said. “She helps me out in school and we are just there for each other.”

At Bellaire High School, Lewis was vice president of the dance company and was a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating from Bellaire in 2007, however, there was a bit of a void in her life.

“Once I entered St. Thomas, all of that went away,” Lewis said. “They don’t have a dance team and the cheerleading squad isn’t as big. So my mom said, ‘You live in Houston. You can try out for the Texans.’ And I said, ‘This is the year I’m going to do it.’ ”

So began the intense process of trying to make the team. After three rounds, the field of competitors was cut to 50.

“It takes a lot of work to be able to get in shape to do this,” Lewis said. “The girls that woke up that morning and decided to try out are the ones that got cut in round one.”

To stay in shape, Lewis does several intense training regimens, including a cross-fit program and a boot camp. She has changed her diet to stay in shape. And before every performance is two hours of hair and make-up.

“I really have no social life,” Lewis said. “This is my life. If I’m not doing school stuff, I’m doing Texans stuff. If I’m not stressing about school, I’m stressing about the Texans.”

“But this is the greatest opportunity in the dance world; it is elite. I just wanted to go for the best—NFL, pro. And now I can relax a little bit because I’m in.”

Besides the practice and dancing at games, each cheerleader is required to make 40 appearances a year on behalf of the team at various functions. The cheerleaders are paid—minimum wage and two season tickets, which Lewis already has promised to her parents.

“No one does it for the money, for sure,” Lewis said. “But it’s really awesome to see the kids look up to you. A little girl at an appearance the other day asked me my name, and she went and painted a T-shirt for me and gave it to me. It was very sweet. The kids look up to you and their eyes are really bright. It’s just a really good feeling.”

So which is going to be more exciting, cheering and dancing in front of nearly 100,000 fans on Sunday afternoons or delivering babies as a doctor?

“That first game is going to be a huge adrenaline rush, for sure,” Lewis said. “I’ll be soaking it all up. It will definitely be a rush, which I’m looking forward to.

“But delivering babies is the one thing I look forward to most because you get to literally bring life into the world. I’d be performing a mitzvah by delivering a couple’s baby, and I would also be fulfilling the final part of that couple’s blessing from God when He enabled them to conceive a child.”

And who wouldn’t cheer for something like that?

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