Fitness Friday: Cheerleading, Scoliosis, Surgery…How I Got Here

So I’ve decided to branch out a little bit from all the food and recipe posts. This Friday, I’m starting with fitness! Next Friday it might be something different. I’m thinking friday favorites, fashion friday, friday finds, foodie friday…I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve.

Today, I’m going to talk about my journey through fitness. From a young age I’ve always loved being active. Soccer, ballet, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, track, cheerleading, you name it, I probably tried it. However, my all-consuming passion became competitive cheerleading.

No, no, no, not stand on the sidelines, wave your poms in the air, and yell for the boys on the football team cheerleading. The football players were the ones throwing me up in the air. During my high school years, I had the incredible opportunity to compete at a national level with the Sun Prairie Coed Cheerleading team.

This is the team I was blessed with during my senior year. My second family.


This is us competing at the National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Florida. (I’m up in the air holding the ‘A’).


After many years of falling on my face, I learned how to flip and land on my feet.


I learned how to pull my foot up above my head.


I learned about an immeasurable amount of trust by placing my life in the hands of another human being.


And I also learned how to squeeze every muscle in my body while still managing to put a smile on my face that doesn’t look compleeetely fake.


I also learned that running into my old stunt partner at the Rose Bowl and stunting for old time’s sake at halftime can score you a debut on ESPN. Along with the approval of two drunk men (as pictured to the left holding their beers up).

All in all, I learned more from being a part of Sun Prairie Coed than I can say for most things in my life thus far. Among the many things I learned from my coaches, teammates, and experiences as an SP Coed cheerleader, was an appreciation for working hard to achieve your goals. As an athlete for most of my life, it was a difficult transition to no longer truly be one. After my short-lived experience as a University of Wisconsin cheerleader (soon after making the squad, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted my college years to be focused on), I found myself stepping into an entirely new realm of fitness and athleticism.


I could no longer rely on my coaches for after-practice conditioning or my hundreds of attempts at flipping and twisting my body to perfect a new tumbling pass. Instead of hitting the cheer gym, I had to hit the real gym. Like one with cardio machines and dumbells. Ew.

I had lifted and ran plenty throughout high school, but never to the point where I needed to in order to get adequate exercise. But I grew to love it. I grew to love running and the high that I got from it. I couldn’t explain it, but I loved lifting heavy things. Nothing could fill the void of competitive cheerleading, but working out was an enjoyable substitute.

But then arose the issue that had always been swimming beneath the surface since I was fifteen. My back. I was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2009. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. I struggled with back pain for several years, but I wasn’t about to give up cheerleading, one of the most important things in my life at that point. Doctors told me that it was highly unlikely for the curve to worsen. It was simply a condition that could cause pain and discomfort, but livable, they said. Nothing they or I could do. The remedy they gave me for my pain was exercise and stretching…things I had been doing extensively since I was a gymnast at seven years old.

When I was diagnosed in 2009, I had about a 25-degree curve. By 2012 it was almost 50 degrees.


Midway through my sophomore year of college, I made the decision to have surgery during the summer of 2013. Physically, what it left me with was 2 titanium rods, 17 screws, a pretty sick scar, and an almost-straight spine. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? That’s a topic for another time.



On a daily basis, my back feels SO much better. However, the past (almost) two years have been more of an uphill battle than I ever would have anticipated. While I don’t have the same aches and pains, I have different ones. I never would have imagined I’d lose as much strength and endurance as I did. I hardly ate that summer and with the weight loss, went literally just about all my muscle. So with this flood of changes, my workout routine changed too.

In the upcoming weeks, I plan to delve a bit more into the nitty gritty of my workouts in terms of:

  • What has made the biggest difference for me in building muscle
  • What I do for cardio, especially for all of you non-runners out there (the titanium in my back doesn’t particularly appreciate running at this point)
  • My favorite exercises
  • Tips to stay motivated

Life is such a beautiful journey. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly taken the time to reflect on how I’ve gotten to this point of fitness in my life. Our bodies are remarkable. I feel so fortunate to have been able to flip and fall and get back up again as many times as I have in my life. While scoliosis and surgery have made for difficult times, they’ve made me who I am today. And I’m thankful for it.


6 thoughts on “Fitness Friday: Cheerleading, Scoliosis, Surgery…How I Got Here

  1. sherry says:

    Niki, you are truly inspiring! You have been through so much and have come soooo far! Keep reaching for the stars and keep writing….I love your writings:)! Love ya!


  2. njbyrne says:

    Great post! I’m due to get scoliosis surgery for two curves in my back in about a month and a half. Would you be able to post about the workouts you used to regain your strength? I’m studying veterinary medicine so getting strong after my operation is extremely important. Thanks x


    • nmunz says:

      Thank you! Yes, I definitely plan to go into more detail as far as what my workouts consist of. If you have any questions for me as you prepare for surgery, let me know! I wish you all the best.


  3. Alexia sulter says:

    Hi i am 14 and i had my surgery 3 years ago i was a cheerleader but had to stop it all being told i was never going to be able to tumble again i freaked out but cheer sign ups are coming up and i wanted to get back into cheer but i still cant bend my back can u tell me what i have to do and what stretches I have to do that would be best for me thank you!😀


    • nmunz says:

      Hi Alexia! I’m so sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Have you tried tumbling since your surgery? Everyone’s body is different, so I can’t exactly say what you would need to do as an individual to find success as a cheerleader again. Personally, I have found new sports and activities that my body can handle (yoga, ultimate frisbee, weight lifting). Cheerleading is not one of those activities. But that doesn’t mean getting back into cheer can’t work for you! I would recommend incorporating yoga into your life by doing a little bit each day. Work on skills/stretches that you would normally do as a cheerleader, but start slow and listen to your body. I wish you all the best!


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