March 8, 2006 — -- Kristi Yamaoka, the Southern Illinois cheerleader who fell 15 feet and landed on her head when a stunt went wrong during a women's basketball tournament, says she hopes to be well enough for April tryouts for next year's team.
After Yamaoka's injury -- she suffered a concussion and a cracked neck vertebra -- the Missouri Valley Conference barred cheerleaders from being launched or tossed, or taking part in formations higher than two levels during the tournament.
Yamaoka, an 18-year-old sophomore from Springfield, Ill., defended the dangerous stunts.
"So I just want everyone to know that usually our stunts hit, and although there is some danger to cheerleading, that's a risk that cheerleaders are willing to take," she said.
"Life is about taking risks, and you can die at any moment," she added.
Yamaoka acknowledged how serious her fall could have been.
"I feel blessed, like God was with me this weekend," she said. "Otherwise, things could've gone a lot different."
Yamaoka attracted attention that day not just for her fall -- the loud thud silenced the audience -- but for doing arm motions to the band's music as she was wheeled off the court on a stretcher.
"Everytime we hear that fight song, and they play it over and over at all the games, our coach has us dance because it keeps the crowd going," she said. "So as soon as I heard it, I figured the rest of my squad was probably doing the fight song and I'm still part of the squad so I had to do my thing."
"I probably should've known better than to be doing the arm motion," she said. "But it's the cheerleader coming out in me, I guess."
It was also her gymnastics training coming out.
"In gymnastics I was always taught," she added, "regardless of what happens in your performance, you gotta keep smiling until you're off the floor."
Yamaoka explained what went wrong with the stunt this time.
"I'm supposed to roll over the shoulders, and two guys were supposed to catch me. Instead of rolling in the front, I accidentally rolled off into the back."
Through her smiles, the cheerleader seemed embarrassed to have attracted so much attention for "messing up."
"Although it's surprising I've gotten attention for messing up in cheerleading, I'm really flattered everyone is concerned about my health," Yamaoka said.
"I think it's kind of crazy because I don't know how many times I've hit that stunt perfectly and no one really cares until you hit the ground," she added.