A cheerleader is all Lyndhurst's Gianna Cruz has ever wanted to be. Well that, and accepted.
This fall, the 15-year-old will be both -- making her Lyndhurst High School's first ever cheerleader with special needs.
Born with a rare illness called 22Q11.2 Deletion Syndrome, Gianna has never let her disabilities stand in the way of her dream. Gianna is a longtime member of the Sparks (Special Angels) Cheer Squad and two years ago, she joined Lyndhurst's recreational team.
"All we've ever wanted is for Gianna to have acceptance and be included," said mom Anna Rizzo.
"All she does is her best every single day and that's all we ask of her."
Earlier this year, Rizzo had one more request for LHS cheer coach Cheryl Ruiz: To make Gianna part of her team. Landing a spot on the LHS cheer squad was never a question for Gianna and naturally seemed like the next step in her cheering career.
Her mom, however, had concerns of her own.
"I was worried she wouldn’t have the opportunity," said Rizzo, (LHS Class of 1994). "I myself didn’t think I’d seen a special needs girl out there."
Coach Ruiz assured Rizzo that she'd do everything in her power to give Gianna a chance to cheer for LHS.
And she did.
Gianna has attended every practice and team activity so far, and while her physical limitations don't allow her to participate in the on-field cheers, she will proudly participate in everything she can on the sidelines.
Ruiz says Gianna's presence on the team is nothing short of inspiring.
"Gianna enhances the quality of our team through her energy and willingness to try her best at all times," Ruiz said.
"The girls are very happy to include her as a true member of the varsity team because they know she has earned her spot through her great work ethic and enthusiasm for the sport."
Ruiz was quick to observe Gianna's eagerness to learn and ask questions. Her best quality, however, was her kindness.
"There has never been a practice that I didn’t receive at least three hugs from her," Ruiz said. "She seems overjoyed to be on the team, and the other cheerleaders and I are more than happy to call her one of our own."
WATCH GIANNA AND THE LHS CHEER SQUAD ON LYNDHURST'S FOOTBALL FIELD THURSDAY AT 6 P.M.
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