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“They’re my heart and soul,” Oklahoma cheerleading coach praised for going above and beyond for squad

LITTLE AXE, Okla. - Our state’s teachers have been a delicate topic lately, but the impact they can have on their students is something on which we can all agree.

News 4’s “Kids With Courage” segment features Oklahoma children who are battling cancer. One family featured in the segment was so touched by their daughter’s coach, they nominated her for Pay It 4Ward.

Being a teenage girl has it’s challenges – school, sports, practices, hair, clothes. If you’ve got a girl, you know. And so does Rachel’s mom. But her little girl’s challenges are far greater than typical teen stuff.

When Rachel was a sixth grader, like many girls, she couldn’t wait to try out for the cheerleading squad, but instead, she was diagnosed with Leukemia.

Rachel wasn’t fighting for a place on the cheer squad. She was fighting for life.

"The chemotherapy really affected Rachel's walking, and she was in a wheelchair for several months,” her mother, Cindy Scott, said.

So, the coach told her she could be an honorary cheerleader and would always have a place on the team. Two years later, Rachel was cleared to cheer, and Cindy nominated Rachel’s cheer coach, Shandelle Self, for Pay It 4Ward.

"She has been the epitome of a cheerleader to Rachel and her message to her team of courage in the face of life's adversities is an encouragement to us all,” Matt Robinson said. “So, on behalf of First Fidelity Bank, I'm thrilled to present you with $400 to pay it forward."

"We just wanted to nominate her because she does a lot for this school,” Cindy said. “She comes before her job in the mornings. She'll come after her job in the evenings."

"I've worked here for 16 years, and I just didn't want to give up on the girls,” Coach Self said. “They're my heart and soul, and this place is my heart and soul."

She is teaching by example what heart and soul truly mean.

“Cheerleading isn't just about cheerleading. It's about life lessons and teaching them how to survive in life, be supportive to each other and learn just how to be in the world. Winning is always good, but it's just learning the commitment," said Coach Self.

"The chemotherapy really affected Rachel's walking, and she was in a wheelchair for several months,” Cindy said. “She had to go through a lot of physical therapy to get strength back in her legs."

So, Coach Self modified the routines for Rachel to make sure she could still participate, But don’t think for one minute those modifications held back the team. When you cheer from the heart, anything is possible. For the first time in school history, they were first runner-up state cheer champs.

"It's really fun, and it gets my mind off of going to the appointments, and going to the hospital and everything,” Rachel said.

"She's a special girl. She has a smile on her face every day,” Coach Self said. “No matter what she's going through, and that's why I do what I do.”

The very definition of a real life cheerleader.

Rachel is in her last phase of treatment, and her Leukemia is in remission.

Pay It 4Ward is sponsored by First Fidelity Bank.