Kriste Lewis desperately wanted to be a professional cheerleader for the NFL's New Orleans Saints, but the odds were stacked enormously against her.
Not only hadn’t she done a single split or high kick since she was a high schooler, but she’s also a 40-year-old mom of two who suffers from an incurable kidney disease.
But even though Lewis didn’t think she had a chance of getting a spot on the Saintsations squad, she went ahead and auditioned anyway. Carpe diem, she thought.
"I know my time is limited," Lewis, a dance instructor, told The Associated Press of her decision. "I don't want to let any time go. I want to make every day count."
And make it count, she really did.
Lewis ended up nailing the audition -- and she’s since become an official member of the Saintsations.
“When she needed to blend with the others, she did, and when she needed to stand out, she did,” the cheerleading squad’s director, Lesslee Fitzmorris, told the Hattiesburg American of Lewis’ performance. “For example, the first audition was a dance audition. None of the judges knew her age and judged her strictly on her presentation and dance ability. The second phase of the audition process was the professional interview. It was during this phase that Kriste stood out. In the final selection process, it was a unanimous decision to put her on the team.”
Lewis, whose family has a history of kidney issues, has polycystic kidney disease. Though not everyone who has PKD will suffer from kidney failure, she told ABC News that in her case, her kidneys will “[e]ventually … shut down.” When that happens, she’ll need to undergo dialysis treatments and a kidney transplant.
But instead of allowing her medical problems to limit her, Lewis -- who lives with her husband and two sons in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, about 100 miles from New Orleans -- said that the recognition of her mortality has only made her more eager to seize the day.
“Today is the day, not tomorrow,” she told the Hattiesburg American. “Wear your best shoes. Don’t save that bottle of wine. Why are you hoarding that from yourself? I know there is no cure for [my kidney disease] … but I could be killed in a car wreck tomorrow. I think too many times we wait too late to start on our bucket lists. Start it while you feel good and can enjoy it.”
Lewis is now only one of two NFL cheerleaders age 40 or older. The other is 45-year-old Laura Vikmanis, who has been a member of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleading team for the past five years.
Lewis’ family say they’re ecstatic over her success.
“I’m especially proud that she made it and she’s the best mom a child could have,” Lewis’ 11-year-old, Rob, told ABC.
This post has been updated with additional information about polycystic kidney disease.