Jana G. Pruden spent three days observing the Canadian Cheer National Championships in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and discovered that cheerleading no longer takes place on the sidelines. For some, it’s become the ultimate in team sport, requiring dedication, rigorous training, and a fairly high pain tolerance to excel.

The Canadian Cheer National Championships is the largest tournament in Canadian cheer. This year, 8,000 athletes journeyed from around the country to compete at Nationals, with at least double that number of supporters paying to watch. The youngest competitors were five, the oldest in their 40s. Some of the 428 teams, including both the Golden Girls and Great White Sharks, would be heading to the world cheer competition in Orlando the following week.

There are places for all kinds of bodies in cheer – small flyers, lithe tumblers, powerful bases – and with seven different skill levels and no upper age limit, virtually anyone can find a place. Though there are co-ed teams, cheer in Canada is overwhelmingly female, with girls and women making up an estimated 98 per cent of competitors.