When the Colts arrived in Indianapolis in 1984, so did the Colts Cheerleaders. And they've been part of the team and its history ever since.
"I want to say thank you to the Irsay family for really believing in the Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders and for taking a chance 35 seasons ago and providing us some wonderful memories and opportunities," Colts Cheer Director Kelly Tilley told current and former cheerleaders gathered in Indianapolis on Friday evening.
This weekend, more than 225 former cheerleaders are back with the team to celebrate their history and the legacy they helped create.
"In 1984, the judges thought they were looking for slim and attractive females with big hair," said former Colts Cheerleader Allie Hosler. "Little did they know that the team they had just selected would be the foundation for an ever-evolving, world-changing program."
As impressive as the women are on the field, they're equally impressive off the field.
35th Anniversary Cheer - Visual History Of The Colts Cheerleaders Uniform
"Those 10 game days a year, that's when they're in that national spotlight, the camera lights are on, people see them on TV, see them on the field, and that really gives them that platform," said Stephanie Pemberton, Vice President of Marketing for the Colts. "The other 355 days of the year is really what makes these women so incredible. They're amazing dancers, they're amazing athletes, but beyond that, they're driven, hardworking women who have big dreams and have big goals for their life and are reaching those goals and I think the cheerleading program is a step along the way for them."
Whether it inspired them, opened the door, or gave them the confidence to chase their next dream, Colts Cheer exposed the women to a world beyond the boots.
"From the appearances they get to do, whether it's going into children's hospitals or doing corporate events, doing media interviews – all of those things build those skills and give them exposure to the business world and the world of nonprofits and charity," Pemberton said.
As they say, you are who you surround yourself with.
For the cheerleaders, what they learned from their teammates is how to be a professional – on the field and off.
"I think there's probably something very powerful in starting your young professional career around other young women that are very motivated and driven and compassionate and supportive and encouraging and that probably helps put them on a positive path, where maybe if they weren't part of something like this, maybe they wouldn't have had the confidence or the support system to pursue those dreams," Tilley said.
Rookie cheerleader Sarah S. looked up to the Colts Cheerleaders when they were cheering - and now that she's cheering, she still does.
"I love looking around and saying, 'I want to be just like you someday.' It's so fun to see them having so much fun and to see their progression and where life has taken them," she said. "I still look up to them, I still want to be just like them."
For all the women, it started with a dream.
"I think what is really powerful is that most of the women on our team are Indiana natives. At some point, they most likely came to a Colts game, saw a Colts cheerleader, met a Colts cheerleader at an appearance, and they're perhaps going to be in the same room as someone they idolized when they were growing up," said Tilley. "They're going to be performing with the former Colts cheerleader that inspired them to pursue this dream – to want to be on that field someday."
For rookie cheerleader Carissa, that cheerleader was her mom, Christy.
"I have vivid memories of her performing during the halftime shows," Carissa said. "I had in the back of my mind how neat it would be if I made the team and had this connection with my mom. But I didn't understand how big it would be."
On Sunday, Carissa and Christy will be performing together at halftime as Colts cheerleaders.
"The magic is a legacy that was created 35 seasons ago that keeps going strong," Tilley said. "The women on the previous teams have inspired other women to want to be a part of this program, not only for what they're doing on the field, but for what they're capable of doing off the field."
Different women from different seasons with different reasons.
Colts Cheer brought them together.
In each other, they found a sisterhood.
"Those ladies have been at my wedding, beside me in good times and bad times, it's just amazing what the sisterhood of being a Colts cheerleader does for all of us – way more than just being on the football field," said former cheerleader Regina Jones.
When they put on the boots, they found something they didn't know they had – and they used it to inspire others.
"We've got a whole new generation of Colts fans now that we have been here for 35 seasons," said Pemberton. "Young girls who are in dance look up to them for that, but we also want to say, 'Hey, you want to be an engineer? You can be an engineer and also be a Colts cheerleader. You can be a nurse at Riley and also be a Colts cheerleader. You can be in science, you can be in IT and also be a Colts cheerleader.'"
For 35 seasons Colts Cheer has empowered young women to be who they want to be.
And when they achieve that, they take off the boots and pass them on to the next generation of women - so they can follow in their footsteps, chase their own dreams, and inspire another group of women to do the same.