chrissy saintsationsThe morning after the Super Bowl, as the Lemondrop editors were having their morning coffee, the conversation turned to the subject of NFL cheerleaders. They're way hot, super-athletic and obviously hard-working, but it's one of those jobs that makes us wonder, "How the heck do you end up there?" Well, it turns out, for most of these ladies, cheering is a part-time labor of love -- the pay isn't great, the time commitment is high and the rules are strict. Check it out.

Sure, everyone's on the bandwagon now, but some folks have been with the Saints in less prosperous, pre–Lombardi Gras days. Take New Orleans cheerleader Chrissy (last names are withheld for privacy reasons), who made the Saintsations squad as a Xavier University of Louisiana freshman -- just a few months before her schooling was delayed and her family's suburban New Orleans home flooded with 15 feet of water thanks to Hurricane Katrina.

But Chrissy bounced back and spent the next five years studying and cheering for the new champs. Now just a few clinical rotations away from a promising career as a Walgreen's pharmacist, she reveals the challenges, surprises and rewards of the NFL cheering life.

Lemondrop: First things first -- how do you become a Saintsation? Is the competition stiff?
Chrissy: We usually have 100 to 150 girls try out. They conduct a couple workshops, and then we have preliminary auditions where we perform a one-minute routine. They'll make some cuts, then we have another round of dancing and interviews, then they have a training session boot camp with 50 finalists. They pretty much start practice and see how the girls handle it. They cut about 15, and we end up with 35 girls or so.

Let's be honest. All those girls together sounds like a recipe for cattiness, no?
Not this year. In past seasons, we've had problems with that, but we have not had one fight the whole season. Our director, Lesslee, took us on a retreat to Destin, Fla. Thirty-eight girls in one house with two bathrooms. We got to know each other, and we figured we were all victimized by mean girls who were jealous because we are pretty and we can dance and we know it. We resolved not to do that to each other, and we called ourselves the dream team this year.

How many hours a week do you practice?
On a normal basis, every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. That is from the day you make the team in the spring until the end of the season. It's a big time commitment and a lot of hard work. We do three new dances every game, and our four lines -- one in each corner of the field -- are synchronized.

How do you stay in shape?
Chrissy: I love running. I run about three miles four or five times a week. It really tones my muscles. It's all about finding what works for you.
I kind of relate it to having a kid-you get so much benefit from it, but you don't really get paid.
That actually sounds do-able. Some of the editors assumed cheerleaders must make big bucks. But they're so wrong, aren't they?
We get paid for appearances once we've done 20; we get five dollars for every calendar we sell over 100; and we get paid for every game we cheer. We can make up to about $6,000 a year. I kind of relate it to having a kid -- you get so much benefit from it, but you don't really get paid.

So why do you do it?
I love interacting with the fans on game days -- New Orleans really does have the best fans. I love doing community work and being a role model, showing that we are intelligent women who have jobs and go to school. I enjoy dancing and performing, and especially this past season, where we sold out every game, 80,000 fans, and have really gotten our name out there. Now when our song comes on and we make our entrance, the crowd just goes crazy. It's an awesome adrenaline rush. It's so cool. I wish everyone could experience it just once.

You grew up right outside New Orleans. Did you ever dream you'd be a Saintsation?
No way! I've been dancing since I was 2, and I just so happened to be on the dance team in high school, and the company we'd go to competitions with actually owned the Saintsations. A couple friends recruited me, I made it that year, and I have been with them ever since.

What else does being a Saintsation involve?
We do 20 outside appearances, and then we have outreach programs. We work with the Angel's Place, an organization that's raising money to build a home for terminally ill children, so they don't have to die in a hospital. And we each have to sell at least 100 of our calendars. You'd think it would be easy because I'm on the cover this year, but my sister's on the back, and we have the same friends and family!

Are there any major rules?

We can't associate with the players. Like, if a player is at a club you are at, you have to leave. They are very strict on that rule. I think that is mainly through the NFL. We can do appearances with them, as long as someone from the team is there. We can't be alone, you know, hanging out.

Do you see this as a springboard to something else you want to do in life?
Not for me, but we have girls who have used it as a networking device. Some have gotten jobs from it. The most we have had is pharmaceutical marketing. You have to look good and be personable, and we've had a couple girls go into that.

Steve Mazzucchi writes for Maxim, ESPN the Magazine, and Esquire.com, and he totally cried at the end of "Bring It On."
For more about the Saintsations, click here.

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