'Cause I am a champion...

So, here's something funny.

When PJ was born, I turned into the nervous mama I never thought I would be. I got panicky if other kids breathed too close to his teeny face. I hovered if someone else was holding him. I swore at other drivers who were endangering his life with their asshat-y driving while he was in the car with me.

Actually, that last thing was pretty much how I drove before I had PJ. But, I digress. What I am getting at is that the second the doctor placed PJ into my hands, I realized that any time he was not in them, he was at the mercy of the world.

Funny thing about that, because I have perfected the art of being a Psycho Overprotective Mama, and yet, when PJ is in their hands, there's not a worry in my soul.

This past Saturday PJ and his South Jersey Storm Twister teammates headed to Atlantic City to compete in the Battle on the Boards cheer and dance competition. We loaded PJ into the car, loaded coffee into me, and made the hour drive to the shore to see our best dude and his buddies hit the stage.

Ella getting made up! This kiddo is a hoot! Love. Her.
Epic Brands, who put on the event, held a contest earlier in the week. The team who got the most online votes would be the winners of a private dressing room! The Storm held their own, but ultimately came in third in the contest. The next day, Epic announced that due to problems with the voting (it's widely speculated that there was cheating) they were cancelling the contest and instead had made the decision to gift the room to the special needs teams competing. It was a very generous solution and one that the kids enjoyed so much! Our girls loved getting glam in their own private dressing room and our boys, PJ included, enjoyed batting the balloons around and eating the snacks!

There was a large area backstage for the teams to practice and warm up, and while we waited our turn, we watched some of the other teams. There were teams of teeny little girls bearing butt ruffles and teams of high-school age kids who defied gravity as they flew through the air. When our kids took to the practice floor, nobody batted an eye. They were just another team to give the side-eye to because they were competitors, and I loved it (although our kids did not really compete- they had their own division and, as it turned out, were the only special needs team in the competition).

Soon enough, it was time to go onstage! Poor PJ had a bit of a moment when Pete left to go sit in the audience and film the kids performance- he hates it when his Daddy leaves! It was hard to explain exactly where Pete was going, so we had a pissed-off  Boy on our hands for a few moments. Thankfully, he calmed down enough for me to hand him off to his amazing one-to-one coach, Jennifer, and the kids took the stage:

The poor kid had a bit of a boogie issue, courtesy of his mini-meltdown backstage, so he kept rubbing his nose (he also noticed the giant screen behind him towards the end of the routine and couldn't take his eyes off it!). That aside, the kids all did an amazing job, having incorporated some new stunts into the routine from our last performance. PJ, by far, executed the most with the least amount of assistance from Jen, which was so much fun to see! The team was able to perform a new routine and look amazing, while I did the same thing I always do- cheer wildly while sobbing.

Something I feel like I should mention: The response to our kids from the other teams and parents has, every time, been filled with genuine warmth, interest, and cheers. We've all seen the way cheerleaders and their families are portrayed, and I was on edge for the slightest hint of laughter or name calling. I haven't seen or heard one iota, and even if there's a ton of it going on behind our backs, that's their problem, not ours. The main impression is that our kids are cheered for as equals, and that means the world to them.

After the performance, we had some down time before the awards ceremony, so we hit the boardwalk in search of lunch. We ended up at The Continental (so. much. yum.) and then PJ enjoyed the "beach" at the mall. The windows on the top floor are lined with sandboxes, white beach chairs, and a great view of the ocean. Although he would have preferred the real thing, PJ enjoyed his beach time!

At the awards ceremony, the kids gathered with the rest of the morning competitors. The Twisters were considered an exhibition team, which meant that they were truly there to perform, not compete. That aside, the kids were given the award-winning treatment. They were called up to receive an award banner, have their picture taken, and they received a paid bid to a national-level competition, the US Finals. That last one floored me- the bids to these type of competitions are very, very expensive. The Twisters won't go to this particular competition because it is very far away, but the prize meant so, so much.

PJ is holding the banner for the paid bid to the US Finals! 

It was such a great day, and reminded me again of how lucky we are that we stumbled upon this activity and opportunity for PJ. It's not about seeing him perform, although that is amazing, and certainly not something I thought I would ever see when he was diagnosed with autism. Watching PJ light up onstage...there are no words for that part. Seeing him run to give his coach a hug, or smile up at one of his teammates, or attend to learning a new skill at practice; that's what we wanted when we took the crap shoot of signing him up for cheer.

Two! Four! Six! Eight!
Who do we appreciate?

a few more pictures from the day...

PJ looking up at Elise, one of his favorites! She always has PJ's back! 

PJ with Jen, his one to one coach. There will never be enough words
for my gratitude for her. And I gots lots of words. 

The wobble!!! My favorite part of the routine! 

Chilling at the awards ceremony! 

PJ kept looking at that screen and picturing Thomas episodes.

PJ kept saying "Whoaaaa, ocean!" with great reverence. 

He was so stinkin' happy to play on the "beach"!

This kid. This face. I need nothing else! 

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