Cheerleader Death Highlights Dangers of Sport

In 2006, a study in the journal Pediatrics offered some perspective on the risk of injury through this competition sport. Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, examined the number of cheerleading-related injuries reported by hospital emergency rooms among participants 5 to 18 years old from 1990 to 2002.

What the researchers found was that the number of injuries more than doubled during the 13-year study period, from 10,900 reported injuries in 1990 to 22,900 reported in 2002.

Additionally, researchers at the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research note that between 1982 and 2006, of the 107 direct catastrophic injuries to high school and college female athletes, cheerleading was related to 60 — more than half.

More Competitive, Younger Girls

Competitions have, in some cases, shaped the cheerleading styles of teams on high school and college levels. More teens — particularly teen girls — are getting involved. And some sustain life-ending injuries.

In 2005, 14-year-old Ashley Burns of Medford, Mass., died after her spleen ruptured following a stunt in which she was hurled into the air and landed improperly. And in 2006, 24-year-old Bethany Norwood, a cheerleader at Prairie View A&M in Texas, died from complications after a paralyzing fall during a 2004 practice session.

Despite the risks of competitive cheerleading, those involved in the rough-and-tumble sport are not likely to stop pushing the envelope in their stunt-filled routines.

'This Was Her Passion'

England says she believes the last thing Chang would have wanted would be for her accident to drive participants away from the sport.

"She loved what she was doing, and she wouldn't want people to stop doing what they loved," she says.

"This was her passion. … She would hate to see anyone stop doing what they loved because of a freak accident."

Nancy Chang echoed the sentiment.

"Lauren died doing what she loved ... cheerleading and being with her friends," Nancy Chang said.

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