By: MARY ULLMER
Photography: TERRY JOHNSTON
NEW YORK – Those who question the competitive nature, athleticism or brains of cheerleaders likely have never met Laura Lyn.
As a member of the Minnesota Vikings cheerleading squad, she’s on the sidelines trying to rile up fans, but she also performs complex dance routines, all the while trying to keep one eye on the action, lest she and her teammates find themselves in the path of an oncoming professional football player.
A lifetime fan of the Vikings, Laura knows football, and also knows what it takes to compete. The 28-year-old Minnesota native grew up with dance and gymnastics and played tennis in high school and college. She also rode horses – “I could ride a horse before I could walk” – and later showed them as well.
Her latest competitive venture? Showing dogs. So, it’s a natural that a woman who works for an NFL team ended up competing at the “Super Bowl of dog shows,” the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
Her stall in the WKC benching area was decked out in Vikings purple and gold – the same colors of the famed Westminster Kennel Club. The grooming table used to spruce up Laura’s 4-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Kendra, was covered with a Minnesota Vikings towel.
Kendra didn’t win the dog equivalent of the Super Bowl – and the Vikings have appeared in four Super Bowls but never won – but she was awarded “select bitch” during the breed competition. And while she didn’t win “best of breed” to qualify for the Working Group finals at Madison Square Garden, Laura said she was happy with Kendra’s performance during their brief time in the ring.
“I think it went well … everyone said she looked good,” Laura said. “I’m always my own worst critic, so little tiny things, like, ‘Oh, her foot moved here,’ bug me. But it was very surreal standing outside the ring waiting to go in. I was like, ‘I am at Westminster.’
“I’m happy she got pulled (from the lineup) and got her award. It would have been fun to get best of breed but she got a piece of it, and I’m happy. She showed well, she looked good, and I had fun with her.”
It was her first time at Westminster, and Laura vows she’ll be back. Clearly, the competitor in her doesn’t give up easily. She wasn’t selected for the Vikings cheerleading team her first time around, either, but Laura persisted. She was placed in a training program in 2006 and finally made the team in 2009.
“I’ve been on the team for four years, but I’ve been with the (Vikings) organization for seven,” Laura said. “I was in the training program, because I didn’t make the team my first time trying out. In the training program they spend a year with you and they have alumni that coach you. They take what you need to work on and help you perfect it so you can try out again the next year. So I was on the training program for a couple of years.”
The team holds open auditions for cheerleaders every April, with a couple hundred women trying out. The field is narrowed to 50 or 60 by the end of the day, and those women go through a few weeks of training camp. Finally, the team of 35 is selected by a panel of judges in a competition held at the Mall of America.
Laura is the oldest on the team – the minimum age is 18 and there is no maximum age.
“When I first started there were girls well into their 30s,” she said. “As the years go on, they kept leaving, and I’m still here. But even as a veteran, you have to try out again each year, so there is no guaranteed spot on the team. That makes you work that much more for it.”
Laura grew up loving sports – she was on her high school’s state championship tennis team in Edina, Minn. She also grew up loving the Vikings. Her parents, Leo and Sharon Fourre, have been Vikings season ticket holders for as long as she can remember.
“I remember growing up and watching the girls on the sidelines and thinking, ‘How fun would that be?’ and one thing led to another eventually,” Laura said. “I don’t just work for the team, I’ve been a fan of the Vikings my whole life.”
She’s heard plenty of stories of the days of outdoor football at frigid Metropolitan Stadium, and even had a taste of those cold-weather adventures as part of the cheerleading team in 2010. That was the year the roof of the Hubert H. Humprey Metrodome, where the Vikings play their home games, collapsed from the weight of snow after a particularly brutal storm.
“We had to get all of our warm-weather clothes at the last minute,” she said. “It was cold and snowy and we didn’t have warm-weather team gear. We wore big puffy white jackets and pants. It was a really fun game, but I don’t know about outdoor football in 30-below weather.”
The winters in Minnesota no doubt played a role in her decision to attend the University of San Diego after graduating from high school. But she missed the Midwest (“I take warm-weather vacations now”) and tennis, and transferred to St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn., where she played tennis for a year.
“I got burned out on tennis but then not playing in college (in San Diego), of course, I wanted to play,” Laura said. “I started playing tennis because I thought it was a lifelong sport, but I went at it so heavy for such a long time that I needed a break.”
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at College of St. Benedict, in biochemistry, pre-med and mathematics. Her full-time job now is in medical sales.
All Vikings cheerleaders must be either a full-time student, full-time mother or have a full-time job. Needless to say, between her full-time job, part-time job with the Vikings and her “hobby” of showing dogs, Laura is constantly on the go. She arrived for the dog show in New York fresh off a military tour with the Vikings cheerleaders at a Naval base in Japan.
“Tryouts are in April, and then we’re in full swing,” Laura said. “We shoot a calendar, do photo shoots, have team shots for marketing and we practice three nights a week. We spend all summer memorizing and learning the routines.
“As a team, we do about 400 to 500 appearances a year. I did about 120 myself last year. So, we definitely keep busy in the community, even more than at games. We’re always doing a lot of charity work in communities. It’s such a big part of why I love doing it … we can have an impact on the people we get to meet, and it means a lot.”
“This is so non-mainstream,” she said. “This is a more unique hobby, sports and competition wrapped in one. If I could make this my career, I’d be happy, but I probably wouldn’t like it as much because then it’s more of a job.”
For now, she plans to keep it her hobby. But that’s not to say she isn’t out to win. Her first taste of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show won’t be her last, she promised.
“I’ve watched the show for years, and going over to the Garden (Monday night) was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ It’s so big,” she said. “But I’m super competitive. After being at the Garden (to watch the Group competition), I said, ‘I’m not done here until I’m at the Garden (as best of breed winner).’
“I don’t know when, but I will be back there at some point in time.”
Mary Ullmer is a pets blogger and editor of Dogs Unleashed, a lifestyle magazine for dog lovers distributed in West Michigan. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter, @pressunleashed.