For Hannah, a three-year veteran of the Colts Cheerleaders, it was a trip full of new experiences from start to finish.
“It was the longest I’ve ever been away from my family and friends and the team, so that was a little weird,” she said.
But along the way, she and her traveling companions formed their own NFL family.
“I got really close with the girls and all the staff was great. You’re with these people for 11 days and you better make the best of it. We definitely did,” she said. “My roommate was the L.A. Rams cheerleader and then there was a Broncos cheerleader and a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader and two alumni players, Eddie Kennison played with the Chiefs and Terrence Holt with the Lions.”
“The whole point of this trip was to show that cheerleaders have a different side instead of just, ‘We go to an appearance and talk and sign and take a picture,’” Hannah said. “We actually work out and our lives are intense. So, it was to show what cheerleaders do back home.”
The trip started with three flights to Alaska, where they set up camp at Fort Wainwright and traveled to different military bases each day.
“We started in Fort Greely, which is a smaller base and the first thing we saw was a moose, which was really cool,” she said. “They’re very hard to spot, so they were like, ‘This is a huge thing!’”
And it was – huge.
They visited schools, spent time with families, and led workouts for children and adults. And to the surprise of even the fittest service members, it was quite a challenge.
“It was a circuit workout of seven different stations with the four cheerleaders and two alumni players,” said Hannah. “They just finished their PT, so these guys were in tip-top shape. It was really cool because they were like, ‘Oh, we thought this was going to be a breeze.’ It was not at all for them. They were struggling.”
From Alaska, it was on to Australia, but not before another once in a lifetime experience.
“Leaving Alaska in the airplane, I saw the Northern Lights,” Hannah said. “We were flying out and it was the horizon line and then the Northern Lights and then our plane. And it was just one of the those moments where you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so lucky.’”
They started off in Sydney with some much-needed downtime.
“We needed a day off by six days of a trip with your same group. Like any group, you get close – but you also need time apart. So, we had a day in Sydney to just do whatever we wanted. So, I took the day and went to Manly Beach and I walked around with my roommate.”
The next day, they were up and at it again with a three-hour plane ride to a top-secret location in the middle of the Australian desert.
While they were there, they visited a kangaroo sanctuary.
“Kangaroo are like deer to us here. They’re very popular. And if you hit them, you just leave them on the side of the road. But what a lot of people don’t know is – inside the pouch, the baby is still alive if there is a baby kangaroo there. So, this guy is trying to educate people to know that you can save this baby kangaroo,” she said.
“He literally just drives down the road and looks in the pouches and most of the time, there is a baby kangaroo in there. And so, he raises them in this sanctuary. It’s such a touching story. He has a show on National Geographic now.”
They also got to see the countryside – by ATV.
“We had literally the best view of Alice Springs, not that there’s much to see, but you just see mountains and desert. It was really beautiful up there. It was real off-roading, like up and down, rough terrain – these guys are trained to do this as their job.”
Then, they traded in their ATVs for another exotic animal experience, this one with camels – which are not native to Australia.
“Another guy just has a home out there,” Hannah said. “He just goes and finds them and brings them back. He has six of them. It’s kind of one of those things where you feel like you’re in a movie. Like, ‘Where am I right now?’ But looking back on the experience, I wouldn’t change a single thing.”
Hannah came home with more memories than she can count and a deeper appreciation for those who serve our country – and what they sacrifice to do it.
“It changed me – as in, I’m a better person and I have a new respect for them – but also for myself and how hard I can do things because of them. I can be a better person because of who they are and what they do for us.”
And no doubt, they also left them with a deeper appreciation for NFL cheerleaders, what their job really entails, and what they put into it.
But most of all, they brought them a little closer to home.
“Just to give them a little piece of the U.S. and give them a little normalcy back to their lives and a little bit of realism, because they’re so far from that world. It was an honor to do that.”