Norwich cheerleader travels to London, participates in New Year's Day Parade

NORWICH – Norwich High School Senior, Olivia Thompson, with the help of generous community sponsors, was able to travel to London, England for participation in the London New Year's Day Parade.

Thomson's story begins back in August of 2014 when the Norwich High School Cheerleaders attended a 3 day Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) summer camp, in Brant Lake, N.Y. During this camp, in front of all camp attendees, staff, and coaches, cheerleaders were invited to try out to be an All American Cheerleaders. Two of our Norwich Cheerleaders – Olivia Thompson and sophomore Samantha Hall – tried out and were awarded this honor. Along with being awarded this, the girls were given the opportunity to travel to London. “The trip to London,” said Cheerleading Coach Marie DeSarro, “was to participate in a week long trip full of sightseeing, bonding with cheerleaders from across the US, and the highlight of the trip – performing in the London New Year’s Day Parade.”

Olivia Thompson, as a senior, decided that she would like to try and raise the money in order to take part in the trip. Over several short months, Olivia, along with the strong support of the Norwich Cheerleading Booster Club and several individual supporters, raised the money to take the trip “across the pond.” “The NHS cheerleading boosters, coach Marie, and sponsors all helped me reach each deadline with sufficient funds,” said Thompson. “I can't thank any of them enough.”

DeSarro also decided on making the trip to support Thompson.

After a long period of preparation – deciding what to pack, learning the exchange rates for currency, and preparing their electronics for British power requirements – the pair left for London on Dec. 26, 2014. According to DeSarro, neither one of the pair had traveled abroad before, so the trip was “both exciting and nerve wracking.”

After an eight hour flight from JFK to London, the travelers arrived at their hotel at 7 a.m. British time, and immediately began their day.

For the next week, Thompson and DeSarro spent their time with an amazing group of girls from all over the US, some with their families, some without. On their first day they took a day-long sightseeing tour around London. “Marie and I went to the many Starbucks, wandered through a few souvenir shops, and got rained on as we waited to meet back together with our group,” said Thompson. But after this, the globe trotters said that jet-lag caught up with them and they retired back to the hotel.

Throughout their week in London, however, Thompson and DeSarro saw many of the famous London sights. They saw Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and they ate lunch at Covent Garden. The pair was also taken to Windsor Castle, to see how the royalty in England live. “What an amazing structure and such beautiful rooms with so much history,” said DeSarro. They were also treated to a staging of the show “Wicked” in the West End theatre district. Olivia and the other All-Americans enjoyed a Disco Cruise along the Thames River one evening, where the famous Tower Bridge was raised as they passed underneath.

Thompson and DeSarro had two days of free time with their group as well. They were given day-long passes to tour the city using their tube system. “We visited Abbey Road, where the famous picture of the Beatles was taken; Platform 9 ¾, which was made famous in the movie Harry Potter; watched street theatre at Covent Garden; and stopped by the first-ever Hard Rock Cafe,” said DeSarro. “On another free day, the girls in our group took to Oxford Circus – one of the most famous shopping districts in the city of London,” she added.

Thompson noted how important it was to her to bond with the other All American girls. “In my group there were about 13 girls with which I had some quality bonding time with. It was fun to talk to them and learn about where they were from,” said Thompson. “It's funny how even though we live in the same country, so much can be different based on the state or area you live in.”

The girls exchanged social media information with hopes of carrying their newfound friendships back home with them.

The highlight of the trip for the All Americans was performing in the London New Year's Day Parade. Thompson was a part of the “We Are One” performance, one of four groups from Varsity Spirit that were performing in the parade. There were over 800 cheerleaders and dancers that traveled as a part of this group from the US. There were over one million bystanders for the parade in London, as well as three million viewers across the country watching on TV and the internet. DeSarro said that the All Americans were one of the favorites during the parade.

Thompson describes one of the highlights of her trip that happened during the parade, during a photo op. “While we were stopped, waiting to continue [the parade], many parade watchers wanted pictures with us,” said Thompson. “One little girl came up to me and asked me if she could take a picture with me. So of course, I gladly accepted. After numerous photos were taken, she looked me in the eyes and told me that she wanted to grow up to be just like me. That was the best feeling I got throughout the trip.”

After the parade, the pair spent their final night in London picking up souvenirs and eating out one more time. The next morning, they made their trip back to New York, to JFK.

Thompson said that this trip has taught her a lot about dedication, patience, respect, maturity, and just how to have fun. “I'm so thankful that UCA and Varsity put this tour together that made it possible for the wonderful experience,” said Thompson.

Thompson plans on becoming part of the UCA summer staff this summer. She has made it through the first round of the selection process and just needs to complete the in-person interview and tryouts in March.

Thompson would like to thank the following people for helping to make her experience a reality: The Norwich HS Cheerleading Boosters & Parents, James & Donna Browning, Tish Hutson, Ross Hutson, Patrick McNeil, James McNeil, Mary Beth LaNeve, Rich Rice, Lynne Robertson, Harold Coleman, Windi Rifanburg, Courtney Coleman, Megan Blenis, Jessilee Portelli, The Clipston Family, Jamie Hagenbuch, Kathy DeSarro, Deborah Myers, Julita Cushman, Cathy Rickard, Cindy Manwarren, Trudy Brightman, Tiffany D’Angelo, Emily Mikalunas, Darlene Sheldon, Matthew Lippa, AIM Fitness, Colonia Theatre, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Kerry BioScience, All Leathers & Repairs, Lilly Bean, Nina’s Pizzeria & Restaurant, Route 12 Redemption Center, Solstice Whole Foods and Herbs, Stroh Painting & Drywall, Under The Gun Tattoos, VFW Post 2783, and American Legion Post 189.

She would also like to thank everyone who donated bottles and cans, bought 50/50 raffle tickets, Chinese Auction tickets or who gave a donation at the concession stands.

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