The Journey

From Diabetes to Bullies to Cheer

Imagine the scenario; Your child wakes up and before he or she can get out of bed, they say to themselves, “I hate going. Why do they always make fun of me? I don’t have any friends there. All they do is say mean and hurtful things. I always find mean notes in my locker. Why even bother showing up?”

Pine View Class of 2017 Cheer 3.8GPA

Kids across the country are exposed to more and more forms of abuse and bulling in their lives. Children, in an effort to avoid being the one that gets bullied, often join in with those that do the bullying. And with the advent of social media, the problem is compounded. 24/7 bullying takes place hidden behind the anonymity of the Internet. As a result of bullying, a student can go from being a normal teenager to becoming more and more closed off, detached from anything positive.

Is this a sort of defense mechanism utilized by students to avoid their own insecurities? Maybe some sort of an ‘I’ll pick on you before you pick on me’ kind of strategy? Life gets so hard for some teenagers that they hate getting out of bed in the morning. Why? Because they know their day will consist of negative comments in the hallway, and notes about them passed around the schoolyard. This isn’t just a part of growing up. It is a serious problem.

People may say this type of bullying only happens in larger areas, where communities are not so family friendly. It is easy to turn a blind eye sometimes and sit here in sunny St. George, Utah, thinking; “Not here. Only in places like California or Las Vegas. But St. George? No way.”

Tell that to Pine View junior and cheerleader, Raya Sunshine Ah Quin.

“When you are bullied life gets so much harder to deal with.” As Raya shares her own personal story about being bullied, challenges our youth face on a daily basis are put into perspective. “It started in the eighth grade, and I hoped it would stop at the end of the year, but it continued in ninth grade too. I would constantly be receiving notes that people would stick into my locker; telling me how crappy of a person I was, or say things about me that were not true. As a young 13-14 year old, I really couldn’t handle it. It got to the point where I would have girls form groups and pretend to be my friends. They would take pictures with me, then intentionally crop me out of the photos and post them without me in them.”

As if intentionally being left out was not enough pain to endure, students (like Raya at the time), sometimes wind up feeling more than alone. It’s that feeling that no one cares that compounds the problem. “I would end up sitting in bathroom stalls during lunch and eat my lunch myself, because I felt like I had no friends. When I would try and reach out to people to make friends, they thought I was over exaggerating or acting fake. It was just so hard to deal with and I didn’t understand why people would treat me that way.”

With all that Raya was going through, Max and Sunshine Ah Quin were no longer going to let their daughter struggle. They pulled Raya out of school and began a home schooling program through the school district. It was then when this incredible young lady experienced something she will forever be grateful for. “When I was homeschooled I learned so much about myself. I grew much closer with my brother Jaden before he left on his mission, and I also learned about who I am and what really matters. And what matters are the relationships I build with the people I build them with and my relationship with God. So when I went back to high school my tenth grade year, I realized I really didn’t care what others thought about me anymore. Girls would still say negative things to me, but I knew who I was, and the negativity was no longer worthy of my time.”

In the midst of discovering whom she was as an individual, and deciding she would finish the rest of high school homeschooling. Raya was approached one afternoon about trying out for Cheer for Pine View prior to the start of her tenth grade year. Tryouts were that very day, and although apprehensive with the amount of time she would have to prepare, she took the opportunity.

With the help of a fellow cheer member, Taylor Steed, Raya would make the squad. “These girls became my family.” Raya shares, “We have all gotten so close and a lot of it has to do with the trust factor. We trust each other so much. The girls flying through the air trust that we will catch them, and at the same time, we trust that the girls will let us catch them. I just love them so much. That was my way back to high school. The moment I made the team I knew they were going to be my family. There is so much unity on the team and I really felt like the Lord was saying to me, ‘This is your family now’.”

The rigors of cheerleading are not always fully appreciated, and are often times mischaracterized. It is far from the stereotypical group of teenagers jumping around, waving pom-poms, and yelling in the student section for their team to win. These individuals are athletes. “We are representing our high school the whole year.” Raya points out an often-unnoticed fact. “Every other sport has their season and they compete during their season. But as cheerleaders we go to wrestling, we go to boys basketball, we go to girls basketball, volleyball, football, we go support all of our athletes and cheer for them year-round. And for those sports that we don’t get to cheer for, we help set up the student section, make posters for the players and support our teams that way.”

To be involved in Cheer you have conditioning and practice just like any other athlete. You have weight training, cardio training, and making sure you are eating healthy. Ah Quin shares with us, “For a typical day we get our stretching and warm-ups in as a team. After stretching we practice our jumps, our kicks, and our tumbling. We go through all of our stunts, all of our dances, and then we refresh all of our cheers. This is all just in class.”

“To watch your child go through that for most all of her life is hard. I have seen what she has gone through with the diabetes but to have to go through bullying too? I hope that parents out there become more aware of how serious both diabetes and bullying really are.“ – Max Ah Quin

A regular fitness and workout regimen outside of school is normal for the Pine View cheer squad. With so much stunting and tumbling that takes place, injury is something to be aware of and all necessary precautions are to avoid them. Raya points out the conditioning that takes place on a personal level to remain strong and healthy. “The scheduled class is where we get their work in but that is only an hour to an hour-and-a-half. So I make sure to get into the gym and do my abs and strength training workouts. I will get in about an hour of cardio every day, except Sunday. This is just a normal part of cheer for me now. I do this year-round.”

What could make Raya’s situation any more unique? Raya is a type 1 diabetic, diagnosed at the young age of three.

The body naturally breaks down the sugars and starches in the food you eat into a simple sugar called glucose, which the body uses for energy. With type 1 Diabetes, the body does not produce the proper amounts of insulin, which is needed to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Treatment for diabetes is critical to avoid dangers, such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and/or amputations.

Add diabetes in the mix with a year-round athlete like Raya, and you have a host of challenges and precautions to work through. “It is hard sometimes because people don’t understand how serious it is for me, especially when I have to pull out my syringes. During games I am constantly testing my blood sugar to make sure I am ok. My daily routine is testing my blood sugar first thing in the morning; counting the carbohydrates I will eat, then taking an insulin shot. I go through this all day. If I don’t take care of myself it is not fair to my family. I have to be right on point. I can’t throw a cheerleader up in the air and not be right because of my diabetes, and then not catch her.”

Raya’s mom, Sunshine remembers, “She did go through a phase where she tried to hide it from others because she didn’t want the attention, and questions that could come with it. Her life is literally a shot four times a day, every day. Every time she eats and then bedtime.” The Ah Quin family hope that individuals are not only sensitive to Raya’s condition, but that people within the community take note of the symptoms of diabetes to avoid any complications in their own families.

Raya has dealt with many challenges, yet through these very challenges, she has learned to be more compassionate and caring of others. “I don’t ever want someone to go through what I have gone through,” she says. “If I can help someone live a happier life because I can be a friend, because I can be more caring of others, then that is what I will do. I have learned to rely on the Lord so much through everything I have gone through, and I know I can be of service to others to make them happy.”

Raya explains how she always remembers to live by the Ah Quin family motto. “If you’ve got, you give. If you don’t got, you give of your time, which time is the greatest commodity of all.” Whether she’s serving food to the homeless with her family, volunteering at the Dove Center, preparing to serve a mission for her LDS faith, or going out of her way to lift someone she notices that may be lonely, Raya truly lives up to her name.

As for Raya Sunshine Tausa´afia Ah Quin and the name she strives to live up too, she certainly has life spelled out for herself. Raya’s name quite literally means, ‘A ray of sunshine that is both lovable and powerful.’ From diabetes to bullies to cheer, Raya’s very personal journey is most inspiring. • HSSI