Year one is an adjustment for every Colts cheerleader. But for Yuka, it was especially challenging.
"Last year, I had no idea what I was doing. It was hard to understand English. My teammates would say something and I wouldn't know what they said. I struggled with that."
A native of Kobe, Japan, Yuka chased her dream of becoming a professional cheerleader all the way to the U.S.
Yuka's 2018 Colts Cheerleaders Swimsuit Calendar Shoot in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
When she made the Colts Cheer squad, it was a dream come true. But she had no idea how much she had to learn – even to develop relationships with her teammates and socialize with fans.
"Last year, there was not a lot of variety in what I could say like, 'Hi. How are you?' But this year, I can talk more about different things. I feel better, it's more fun," she says. "Last year, everything was a challenge for me. It was a tough year last year. It was a lot of, 'I can't do that, but I have to do that.'"
She pushed herself even harder, practicing her dances on the field and her English off the field. The language barrier was a social barrier. But the more she learned, the more it paid off – allowing her to form deeper and more meaningful relationships.
"I know my teammates' personalities now. I know more about them and who they are," she says.
Still, there are some things she struggles with.
"I still don't get many American jokes," she laughs.
This year, Yuka has taken on a new challenge.
"I started teaching cheer dance to kids. I teach once a week and I have two classes. The one class is ages 6 to 8 years old and the other class is up to 8 years old."
It's a way for her to keep pushing herself out of her comfort zone. She also uses it as an opportunity to teach her students a little Japanese culture.
"I taught them their Japanese name and now they can write their Japanese names by themselves. And I taught them greetings."
All the while, they're teaching her – whether they know it or not.
"Using English for my job is a big thing for me," she says. "I want to keep trying something new where I can continue to improve. I don't want to stop."
Yuka returned home in January and shared what she's learned with cheerleaders in Japan – and inspired some girls with her story.
"I taught Colts style dance for Japanese cheerleaders. I wanted to give them something. It's my responsibility," she says. "Some girls impressed me. And some girls are going to try out next year. I'm excited about that. It's worth it to come here even if they don't make it."
Yuka is paving the way for other girls from Japan to follow their dream.
"Where there is a will, there is a way. If you want something bad enough, you can do it."
Even if doing it takes you half way around the world.