By Jamie H. Vaught
Two former members of the UK Dance squad – Savannah Guzman and Brooklynn Mitchell – are still cheering like crazy.
After four years of cheering the Wildcats, the UK graduates recently have been selected as an NFL cheerleader. Guzman is now with the Atlanta Falcons, while Mitchell is with the Indianapolis Colts.
Guzman – who is from London, Ky., where she was a cheerleader at North Laurel High School – said she never thought about the NFL while at Kentucky.
“I never considered going pro during my time at UK,” she said. “I was very content and in the moment as a part of the University of Kentucky dance team. It was not something that I saw many of my teammates doing, and I was enjoying my dance and school experience at UK so much that it didn’t even cross my mind to leave during my four years.
“(But) NFL and pro cheering has been a huge dream of mine ever since I was very young. After completing college, I just always thought of it as the next step up.”
Guzman didn’t really expect to make the Falcons’ squad. But she thought it would be a good experience to have, regardless.
“I have never tried out for a pro team before so you can imagine my surprise when I found out the amazing news,” she said. “I had been training and preparing for months to be at peak performance for auditions. My first audition tape was a freestyle dance I choreographed myself and some other technical skills. It felt like sending off a shot in the dark not knowing if I was what they were looking for.
“As I got accepted to the semifinals and then finals, it just kept getting more and more real. It had me thinking I could accomplish my goal I had worked for so long. Even now that I have moved to Atlanta and have started cheering with my team, it still feels like a dream sometimes.”
While at Kentucky, Mitchell admitted she thought about a future in the NFL every now and then.
“I definitely had my moments where I considered auditioning for an NFL team,” added Mitchell, who grew up in Clarksville, Tenn. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be ready to give up dancing or not after four years rolled around. Surely enough I wasn’t. It seemed so far fetched at first, but when the time came I realized I live once and I knew I’d regret at least not trying it.
“Now looking back, I’m so happy I took that leap of faith. I’m truly so blessed I made the Colts’ cheer team. And despite the circumstances right now, I know God chose this path for me for a reason.”
While auditioning for the Colts, Mitchell had fun. Whatever the outcome, she knew she would be fine.
“For me, I surprisingly had a lot of overwhelming peace with the outcome if I made it or not,” she said. “I knew at the end of every day that I did my best and that was good enough for me. I also know only about 26 dancers out of hundreds get the shot to be a Colts cheerleader. So no, I didn’t expect it. It wasn’t until I was a top 50 finalist that I thought ‘Okay, you know what maybe I can do this.’ But when I received the news I made it, I did cry tears of happiness knowing another one of my dreams had come true.”
Looking back, Mitchell was asked about her favorite game or memory at Kentucky.
“Hard question as I have so many fond memories being on the UKDT,” commented Mitchell, who graduated last May, majoring in Integrated Strategic Communication with a double minor in Communication, and Digital Media and Design.
“One, specifically, is pregame (in football and basketball). I can’t describe the feeling, but if it tells you anything – I always got goosebumps and maybe a tear a time or two when they played the “hype” video for football and basketball. There’s something so special standing in the beautiful Commonwealth of Kentucky at Kroger field, being surrounded by Kentucky blue, and the smoke machines going off, and the team running out.
“Similarly, there’s no feeling like being in Rupp (Arena), watching that video and the crowd going crazy. Those pregame feelings I will never forget and I’m so thankful that I had the best seat in that house in those moments.
Added Guzman, “My favorite Game Day memory was singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ at my first football game as a freshman. I remember looking up into the stands and getting teary-eyed. That day I walked off the field saying that was the best day of my life. Little did I know there were so many more amazing things to come. That is when I truly fell in love with Kentucky football and UK. The amazing traditions and fans made me so proud to dance there.”
Even while in Atlanta during the football season, Guzman is teaching art to her kids online at an elementary school in Fayette County in Lexington.
Guzman, whose father interestingly was born in Ecuador but grew up in the Italian quarters of New York City, said living in Atlanta has been a big adjustment since she has “never lived outside of Kentucky before. So this was a huge change for me. I’m excited to experience this fast-paced way of living. I am so honored to have been selected to be a part of such a prestigious organization. I love being an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader so much already.
“I hope Atlanta life is good to me, but I will always be a small-town Kentucky girl.”
By the way, Mitchell almost didn’t become a cheerleader after going through a horrifying accident when she was a small child. It was once feared that she wouldn’t be able to walk again. It was a very difficult time for her and the family but she miraculously overcame many obstacles.
“At age seven, I was in a traumatizing accident. I was in an ATV accident on a family farm and was pinned under the vehicle. It flipped,” Mitchell recalled. “I was blessed to have left the hospital after one month with only losing four toes. I had eight surgeries and skin grafts, blood transfusions and burns all over me.
“At one point I was going to lose half an arm and potentially my whole foot. It was devastating when the doctors said I may never even walk again. But I was determined. At seven, I didn’t know much but I knew that my passion for dance was real when they told me it could be taken from me.
“Within a couple months I took my first ballet class. Granted, I was limping but I refused to let the physics of the human body get the best of me. Fifteen years later, having six toes ain’t nothing but a thing.
“After I realized I could dance just like the other girls, nothing was going to stop me from fulfilling my dreams. Did I have to work really hard to get there? Maybe harder than some other girls? Absolutely.
“But I learned mind over matter. I learned that six toes and being a dancer isn’t impossible. And I learned that if you want something so bad that you lose sleep over it -- in my case it was dance -- then you will achieve it. I like to use my story when others face adversity. I even wrote two children’s books that are now kept in the Vanderbilt Children’s hospital library.”
There is also another interesting tidbit about the Colts cheerleader that many folks don’t know much about.
“I have a passion for helping others and traveling. I also love butterflies. They have a lot of symbolism and I’d like to think that’s my spirit animal,” Mitchell said with a smile.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including newly-released “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.