News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 28, 2014

Three women vie for spot on Colts squad

From high schooler to 30-year-old mother, each has high ambition

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Three women. One dream.

Wabash Valley residents Chelsea Ralston, Mariah Whitaker and Andrea Swinford have never met each other, but they have one thing in common: All three are aspiring Colts cheerleaders.

Online auditions are underway and will be a factor whether or not these three women make the 2014 Colts Cheerleading Squad.

As the March 23 preliminary round of auditions draws near, the three women are hoping to gather as many online votes as they can.

Andrea Swinford

Andrea Swinford, of the “small, supportive community” of Hillsdale in Vermillion County, said she has been competing with another candidate for the top spot in the online voting. As of Thursday night, she was in second place with more than 7,300 votes. The aspiring cheerleader with the highest votes automatically qualifies to the next round, she said.

“It’s a fight,” she jokingly said.

But she appreciated all the support.

“It’s an awesome feeling. I can’t thank people enough,” Swinford said.

“I didn’t realize I had so many people … that really want this for me,” she said.

One of her biggest cheerleaders is her mom, who has been encouraging everyone she knows to vote for her daughter.

“People are saying they want to see a small town girl go big,” Swinford, who has been cheering since 4th grade, said.

But joking aside, Swinford, who grew up in Dana, said it is an “honor” to represent her small town.

“We don’t even have a grocery store … for such a small community and so many votes, that says a lot,” she said. “I just think there’s no better way to honor the community than to support the local team. I like to entertain people and most of all, have fun.”

Her cheerleading career started in elementary school and continued all through high school. She also took gymnastics as a child and remained active in it until recently.

“I can’t get it out of my blood,” she said of cheerleading and gymnastics.

“I might as well do it now before I get too old,” the 30-year-old said.

Swinford, a mother of three children, including a set of twins (boy and girl), wants to finally pursue her dream of becoming a Colts cheerleader. She wants to set a good example for her kids.

“If you want something, go after it,” she said of the lesson she wants to share with her kids.

But she also wants to share something with other mothers.

“This shows those who have families that you could still go after your dreams,” Swinford said.

Chelsea Ralston

Another aspiring Colts cheerleader, Chelsea Ralston, wants to be a role model.

“I have a passion for fitness and dance. I think this will be a great way to tie the two together and be a positive role model for younger girls,” the 21-year old said.

She likes the community service activities of Colts cheerleaders.

“I think they are the epitome of grace and class,” said Ralston, who is finishing her last semester as a nursing student at Indiana State University.

Supported by her mom, Ralston started gymnastics and dance when she was 3-years-old and cheering in sixth grade. She continued cheering at school and on competitive teams through high school.

While in college, she coached cheerleading before getting involved in fitness. She currently co-owns Terre Haute workout facility, Evolution Fitness.

Born and raised in Terre Haute, she enjoys cheerleading.

“It’s an adrenaline rush. I think it’s fun to get dressed up, go out and have a good time,” Ralston said. “Everybody’s positive. Everybody’s happy.”

Her commitment and dedication are among the qualities she will bring to the Colts cheerleading squad, she said. She has been working with a local cheerleading coach since August in preparation for the tryouts.

And while Ralston aims to get the most online votes she can, she still intends to show her best skills on audition day.

Mariah Whitaker

Mariah Whitaker, one of the youngest girls trying out for the squad, also intends to do her best during auditions.

The 18-year-old “regular, typical teenager,” plans to focus on preparing for the tryouts during the first few weeks of March so she worked hard to complete all the credits to graduate high school early. Her last day of school at Terre Haute North Vigo High School was Friday, she said.  

“I’ve wanted to be a Colts cheerleader since I was little,” Whitaker, a Terre Haute resident, said. Inspired by seeing the cheerleaders at Colts summer camp, she previously wanted to sign up to be a junior cheerleader but was unable to. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity now to at least try.”

She has three reasons for wanting to become a Colts cheerleader.

“I love to dance. It’s my passion,” she said of her first reason.

The second, she said, is the opportunity to do community service in Indianapolis as a Colts cheerleader. She plans to attend The Art Institute in Indianapolis this summer and major in fashion design. Performing community service will be a great way to get to know the city, she said.

“Third, I love to perform and entertain, so performing for all those fans, I think that will just be a great experience,” Whitaker said. “The adrenaline rush will just be amazing.”

Although she has never been a cheerleader, Whitaker started dance in third grade and performed throughout high school.

“I feel more confident when I dance. It’s another way to show off your personality. ...I think it’s really fun,” she said. And when it comes to pursuing her dream, age is only a number.

“I don’t really think age is a factor. It doesn’t intimidate me,” Whitaker said, and she is used to working with older people. “But I do have a lot to prove.”

She expects to have to work harder “because I am so young.” She hopes to learn to be a better dancer.

Her inspiration is her mom, Nicole Whitaker, who was proud of her eldest daughter.

“It takes a lot of courage to do something like this but this will help her grow,” Nicole Whitaker said. “The possibilities are endless.”

“She always pushes me to try my hardest,” Mariah Whitaker said of her mom. “She always tells me I have as good a chance as anybody else. She’s always been my support system.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or