Sharon Simmons, a 55-year-old grandmother, is as slim and toned as a woman half her age, and she's preparing to go head-to-head with women even younger when she auditions to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader in May.
"I don't see a number," she said, regarding her age. "If I do, it's just a number. It's not that I can't keep up with [younger women] in the physical part of the training."
Simmons, who has two grandchildren, is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist who began entering fitness competitions at the age of 50.
In the last five years, she's participated in more than 20 competitions, and has even won a few first-place titles, according to her website.
"To me, this is just like any other competition," she said. "There are steps to take to prepare, which is exactly what I'm doing."
Simmons, who works in commercial real estate, first began dreaming of becoming a Cowboys cheerleader when she was a cash-strapped single mother in her 20s. She had planned to try out, and even had her mother take some photos of her to submit with the application, but she lacked dance training. And, ultimately, Simmons didn't have the courage to apply.
"Now," she said, "I'm not afraid. I'm more mature. I know what to do."
Simmons also has no qualms about donning the required attire for tryouts: hot pants and an athletic bra top, an outfit that's not for the faint of figure. Simmons is used to wearing even skimpier outfits in fitness competitions. "If you're not comfortable wearing stuff like that, you should not be trying out for the (squad)," she said.
The oldest woman ever to dance with the Cowboys cheerleaders was Linda Badami, a 37-year-old mother of four from Kansas, according to Kelli Finglass, who directs the squad. Grandmothers and women in their 50s have auditioned in the past, but none have been chosen for the squad. The oldest woman on the 2011 squad was 31, and the youngest was 18 years old, Finglass said.
Usually, Finglass says, the squad is dealing with a much younger group of women. "We spend more time trying to schedule summer training camps around girls' high school graduations, college graduations, and wedding showers."
And while she wasn't sure what to think when she heard about Simmons, she recently saw a photo of her and said she is "intrigued."
"It says something about women and their success stories," she said. "I'd give her accolades for her preparation and look forward to her audition."
All these years after her dreams were first formed, Simmons still doesn't have much dance experience.
Actually, "Zero, zip, zilch," she said, but she's working hard to prepare by taking two dances classes a week, including some coaching from Andrea Cohen, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and she does workout six days a week.
Perhaps the most daunting part of the tryout, she said, is the so-called jump splits, which requires the cheerleader to jumps up and then land on the ground in a split.
"Jump splits are unnatural at any age," Finglass acknowledges, but they are a signature move in the squad's performances and are required of every member.
Simmons says she doesn't have the splits down yet, but hopes to get there soon. "I'm staying focused, I've set a goal, and I'm going to do everything in my power to prepare to be successful with my goal.
- Dallas Cowboys cheerleader