Wednesday, March 6, 2002

More than just a Cowboys cheerleader
by John-Mark Day
Skiff Staff

It’s a Sunday morning in April 2000. At Texas Stadium, The Dallas Cowboys, normal owners of the field, are gone. In their place 800 women take the field, curlers in their hair, show makeup thickly applied. As they stretch and warm-up, tailor-made workout outfits show off bodies toned by training and thinned by painful diets. A nervous tension permeates the stadium. It’s audition day for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

An 18-year-old girl walks onto the field. She may be in the wrong place, or at least on the wrong day. Her hair has been blow-dried straight. Her makeup is understated, nothing showy. She wears borrowed clothes and carries a guitar and amplifier.

Molly Beuerman/SKIFF STAFF
Kristin Holt, a junior political science and Spanish major, works on homework in her apartment. Holt is a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and was named Miss Burleson last fall.

She decided to try out three days ago. She has almost no formal dance training. She’s never cheered a day in her life. For the final round, the talent exhibition — when competitors typically show off their best dance moves — she drags out that amplifier, plugs in the guitar and plays “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

And at the end of the day, when the numbers go up, Kristin Holt has a passing score. The girl who decided three days earlier to try out on a whim, had become the newest Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader; and the most hated girl on TCU’s campus.

“All of a sudden, I wasn’t Kristin Holt anymore, I was the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader at TCU,” said Holt, now a junior political science and Spanish major at TCU. “That’s what I still get introduced as. And I don’t mind it so much, but my challenge is in overcoming that stereotype people have of it

“People already have a stereotype of an attractive girl. They must be snobby. They must be self-righteous. They must not care about people. That’s exactly the completely wrong thing.”

Holt would later make the traveling squad of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the elite 12-person team that represents the squad around the world. Two years later she would win a new competition, sweeping every category of the Miss Burleson pageant. Now she faces the Miss Texas pageant in July.

Special to Skiff

But her successes have also brought her to have mortal enemies. Mostly girls she has never met. It would give her false friends, fair-weather types who flock to the uniform but could care less about the girl who wears it. And through it all, despite the success, she would insist that her one special attribute is that she cares deeply about the people around her. Even if those people hate her.

“Kristin has a very strong sense of who she is. And that’s based on her faith,” said Jason Illian, 26, a TCU alumnus and Holt’s boyfriend. “At the end of the day I don’t think it matters to her if she succeeds at those things or if she doesn’t. That’s not what motivates her.”

What does motivate her, Holt said, are people.

“There were times when I wanted to quit, but I had a stronger sense of self and purpose and faith than over half the girls on the squad,” Holt said.

“Some of them who were well into their 30s or late 20s and were married were asking me marital advice, and (wanting me to) help them. That made it so worth my experience and my time.”

Sometimes, though, those people can turn on her. When Holt found out that she had made the cheerleading squad, she called her roommate with the news. When she got home that night, she found a door decorated in silver and blue, Dallas Cowboys colors, balloons on the floor, and a sign on the door that said “New Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader” which stayed up for a few days. Then, as Holt and her roommate were in bed, someone would run by the door and throw rocks. This continued for several days, until Holt went out one morning.

“Instead of saying Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, it said Dallas Cowboys Cheerbitch on the door,” she said. “This was my freshman year in Colby (Hall). I hadn’t even been there that long to make somebody mad. I didn’t know what I had done to them.”

The next night, after something else hit her door, she opened it just in time to see two girls run down the hall. Holt caught up to them as they were going into the elevator. Putting her hand on the doors to keep them from closing, Holt stared the two girls down.
“I just want you to know that I’m praying for you,” she told them. And she walked away.

After that, Holt said she learned that even people who didn’t know Kristin Holt the person hated Kristin Holt the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

“We don’t know how to be happy for each other,” she said. “We just don’t. If you have something that somebody else doesn’t, they automatically hate you for it, because they don’t have it.”

Holt’s roommate, junior political science major Chelsea Hudson, said those people usually change their minds once they meet her.

“I think most people fall in love with her really fast,” Hudson said. “I think there are just some people who are selected to do great things and inspire others. Kristin’s one of those people.”

In July, Holt will compete in the Miss Texas pageant, after being named Miss Burleson last fall. She won the title the first time she stepped onto a pageant stage.

“I learned how to do the pageant walk the second before I went on the evening gown portion of the pageant, and I won,” Holt said.

“I won every category. I won first place in evening gown, first place in swimsuit, first place in interview, and first place in talent. And this is all stuff I put together a week and a half before the pageant.

“Does that make me better than the other girls? Absolutely not. But it does show that in a lot of things that I do, I’m following my natural swing. And that’s just being with people and relating to people on a real level.”

“The judges don’t want somebody that can act really well — we have another industry in this world for that. But with things like cheerleading and pageants, they want a real person, and it’s hard to find one in that industry.”

That realism is the same aspect of Holt that draws people to her.

“At the root of everything, for Kristin it’s about the people,” Illian said. “When she comes to you and says hello, or gives you a hug, it’s not for show. It’s for real. That’s very rare.”

It’s the people, Holt said, that she will treasure. Not the uniform, not the travel, not the exposure. All those things are means to an end: The people. People like the high school freshman she mentors and invests in as part of K-Life, a Christian parachurch ministry.

People like the members of the TCU Gospel Choir and TCU Steppers, two groups of which Holt comprises the entire white population. People like the prospective TCU students and alumni she volunteers her time with as president of TCU’s Student Foundation.

And people like the soldiers Holt has met in Bosnia, or Kosovo, or Macedonia, Hungary, Italy, Japan or Korea, all stops she made with the USO tour.

“When you’re flying 800 feet above the ground in Korea, where the southern part is not communist and the northern part is communist, and you’re right on the border, and you look over into North Korea, and there’s not a light in the country because there’s no electricity, and you look at South Korea, where you’re staying at your Hilton Hotel, and it’s all lit up, it’s just amazing,” she said. “Especially when it’s Christmas Eve and you’re with American soldiers who haven’t been home in eight months.”

Over the linked headsets everyone is wearing, Holt’s pilot asks her to sing Silent Night. As she sings, the soldier cries.

He’s not the only one she’s seen in tears this trip. One man missed the birth of his firstborn child. One missed his 15-year anniversary. Grandmothers, mothers, sisters have died. And they can’t be home.

“They said we had no idea what it meant to them to have part of America come all the way over there and spend Christmas Day with them,” she said.

But Holt has an idea. And that’s what drives her.

“When I meet someone, I want them to say, ‘She made me feel better. She encouraged me. She inspired me to do this,’” Holt said. “So many times people don’t pursue their dreams because they think they’re never going to happen. Well, why not?”

“I think so many people are so worried about achieving something that it takes up all their thoughts. I’ve learned over the past few years that life’s just fun. If you have that source of happiness, life is fun.”

Fun, she says, despite the animosity that comes with success. Fun because life has brought her what she wants the most — relationships.

“(Every achievement) is another story I can use to relate to someone else,” she said.

John-Mark Day


TCU Daily Skiff © 2002