Greenwood’s Claire Lanham “resets expectations” of cheerleading with Down Syndrome

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 10:45 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - The Greenwood Gators cheerleading team doesn’t fake its spirit. It lives it.

No one lives up to the green and white spirit more than freshman Claire Lanham.

When people see Lanham, they might first notice she has Down Syndrome. But her teammates and coaches just see her as “Claire.”

“Yes, Claire has her differences. But, it doesn’t mean we see her any less,” Greenwood cheerleading head coach Richelle Shoemake said. “I see her just as someone else on the team.”

Lanham has been cheerleading since she was six years old on top of participating in gymnastics. But cheerleading is her one true love. She says she “couldn’t live”

“I love all my girls in my team. We have an awesome time in our games,” Lanham said. “It just makes me so happy.”

Shoemake coached Lanham at Drake’s Creek Middle School before she enrolled at Greenwood high. When Shoemake saw Lanham trying out for the team, adding her onto the team “was an easy decision.”

“She has the routine down and she’s got the spirit of a cheerleader,” Shoemake said. “She’s been doing a good job, and that’s not easy to do as a freshman.”

The team has welcomed Lanham with nothing but wide open arms. Junior cheerleader Hannah Stewart has become one of her closest friends, embracing Lanham as more than just a teammate.

“She’s just really sweet. When we first met her, we never had anyone on our team like this,” Stewart said. “But, she comes to all of our games and our practices and she’s just another teammate. She really is just like one of us.”

Lanham performs at every Greenwood football game on the sidelines. She also serves as an alternate cheerleader for “Gameday” cheerleading competitions.

She hasn’t missed a beat.

“Gameday is three minutes of constant motions of being right on time. So, she’s kept up with that and same with football games,” Shoemake said.

“I don’t get nervous at all. I’m super pumped up and excited,” Lanham said.

There’s something even more contagious than Lanham’s confidence: her empathy.

Lanham’s Dad, Derek, says that her daughter’s love is a gift that keeps on giving.

“Claire is empathetic on a scale beyond our capability. And that shows in her cheering,” Derek Lanham said.

Even better, she’s challenged people’s expectations of what people with Down Syndrome are capable of achieving.

“Resetting people’s expectations from what people with Down Syndrome are capable of,” Derek said.

The Gators have also created a model of tolerance and inclusion. A model that can teach others, including themselves, how to be just like Claire.

“I don’t feel different at all. I just feel so happy,” Claire said.

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