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Crimson Squad uses IU cheer challenge to stay fit amid coronavirus pandemic



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IU cheerleaders stand in formation in the air Sept. 14, 2019, in Memorial Stadium. The IU Crimson Squad cheer team has created weekly challenges on social media that have been reposted by IU's Instagram account. Alex Deryn

Hands in fists, junior IU cheerleader Lexi Keller lowers her shoulders as she stares straight ahead in her Fort Wayne, Indiana, backyard. She nods her head up, lifting her arms as she pushes her weight into her gray sneakers.

Keller bends her knees into a squat and lurches her upper body forward, swinging her arms back in preparation. She lifts off the ground, twisting over and landing near where she starts in a swift motion, a standing back tuck. 

Keller repeats two more times, doing the challenge as quickly as she can and limiting her movement to stay in frame. She completes it in 10 seconds.

Keller created the video as part of IU Crimson Squad all-girl cheer team’s weekly challenges. The cheer challenge has gained social media attention recently after the IU Instagram account page began reposting videos of cheerleaders completing their challenges and encouraging non-cheerleaders to partake in easier versions of the exercises.

So far, participants have posted videos from the living room, Monroe Lake and on the beach. 

“It helps keep me motivated, and it’s fun,” Keller said. “When I see my friends doing it, it makes me want to keep working hard.”

IU assistant cheer coach Kristen Zupancic said the idea was born after the 39-person team was broken into small group chats of about six people. Within these small groups, the cheerleaders became responsible for posting their cheer challenges, which include get-to-know-you prompts and physical feats, such as planks and burpees.

"It's a great bonding opportunity during a time when they really can't see each other," Zupancic said.

IU cheerleaders normally meet in June and July for "practice weekends," three- to four-day clinics each month. Now, during the coronavirus pademic, the team is limited to meeting over Zoom calls every few weeks for cheer updates. These calls include the co-ed Cream cheer squad.

Senior Jenna Daniel said her favorite activity so far is when the Crimson Squad met together in a Zoom call to get to know one another. Everyone was encouraged to say a fact about themselves, send a picture and give a name for their small group.

“Little things like that are great ways to get to know each other and be comfortable with your teammates,” Daniel said.

Daniel said she misses traveling to the team's annual summer Wisconsin retreat. She recalls darting left and right during games of Ships and Sailors with her teammates, going bowling at a local alley and popping balloons tied to one another’s ankles in a game.

“When you’re remote, it’s hard just to put a name to a face, let alone to get to know one another,” Daniel said.

The team won’t be meeting again until August, but Daniel is looking forward to the date she is reunited with her teammates.

“If everyone does their part to social distance and stay safe, I think we’re ready to make a great season happen,” Daniel said.

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