Murakami perseveres in face of adversity


Senior Tashea Murakami is an accomplished and award bearing cheerleader, who has placed at the state and national levels. She was diagnosed with scoliosis at a young age, advised to undergo corrective surgery, and stop cheering. But, Murakami said, “It was my last year, I wanted to [continue].”

Hanh Pham, Editor

Seventeen-year-old Tashea Murakami (12) joined the Varsity cheerleading team during her freshman year, and has since earned four medals at state cheer championships.

Murakami grew up participating in competitive dancing and gymnastics, and has been a cheerleader for 10 years. Although her district school is Kalaheo High School, she is on Geographic Exception at Radford for the cheerleading team.

“It was kind of always my dream to go to Radford, so when it happened I was excited. Even though I wish I could graduate with the people I grew up with,” Murakami said, “I knew coming to Radford, since I was going into cheer, I had friends.”

Her accomplishments did not come easily though, as she had to work with a disability. Around fifth or sixth grade, she was diagnosed with scoliosis during a sports physical. Scoliosis is a disability in which the spine is curved, causing extreme pain. It is also a genetic trait – both her father and one of her older sisters are also diagnosed with the condition.

Her parents kept an eye on the status of her condition, which intensified over time. When she began experiencing growth spurts, her spine’s curve steadily grew, yet she persisted in cheerleading.

“My spine [got] a bigger curve,” she said, “which causes a lot of pain in my back.”

As a cheerleader, Murakami needed to adapt to this issue, since it made it difficult for her to maneuver in ways that other cheerleaders could.

“I’m a cheerleader, and I have to do certain things. I can’t really do them, so it pushed me back in cheerleading and I had to try and figure it out,” she said.

In her sophomore year, her doctor advised her to undergo surgery to prevent the scoliosis from worsening. However, with her family’s support, and her coach’s understanding, she was determined to finish the season in her senior year before undergoing surgery, because the procedure meant that she would never be able to cheer again.

At the beginning of the school year, however, Murakami’s doctor told her that her scoliosis had progressed so much that she wasn’t capable of surgery. Her doctors also advised her to cut out sports completely.

“They put me in physical therapy again, and I still see a chiropractor. But cheerleading is my life, and they told me this at the beginning of my senior year,” Murakami said. “It was my last year, I wanted to [continue], and I was selected team captain.”

After discussing her decision with her parents and cheerleading coaches, Murakami chose to persevere, and complete her final season.

“I took a step back. Me and my coach had an understanding where I…did what I had to do and wouldn’t push myself too much,” she said.

Through this ordeal, Murakami’s coach and her parents have been her main source of support, and she attributes her ability to finish the season because of their understanding of her wishes. Her intention had been to give up cheerleading after high school due to the surgery, but her condition has gone beyond the point at which medical technology can currently help.

“I’m going to live with disability my whole life. As I get older, it gets worse, and my doctors think I’ll be handicapped really, really young,” Murakami said.

She explained that the surgery to fix scoliosis isn’t the best surgery, and that as technology and medical research progresses, the situation may change.

“I’m hoping that they will adapt it so that I’ll be capable [of getting] it later on,” she said.

Nevertheless, she is glad she continued cheering during her time in high school, even though she is no longer a candidate for surgery. Her best experiences have been with the team, including her first time winning states during her freshman year with the varsity team, a position that she worked hard for.

“Even though I’m sad I’m not a candidate for it anymore, I got to cheer with my friends and be captain…it was also my coach’s last year, so it was good to finish with him.”

Coach Bo Frank, who is stepping down as cheerleading coach this year, believes that Murakami has and will continue to succeed.

“Sports have a crazy way of teaching life and this is a perfect example of that,” Frank said. “Tashea made the decision to put her love for the sport of cheer in the forefront and for that she is a wonderful person who has developed tremendous leadership skills and is ready to pursue bigger and better things in college and beyond.”

Murakami’s experiences with scoliosis have influenced her career goals after high school, as she intends to become a radiology technician, a person who performs x-rays. Bimonthly x-ray examinations were essential in seeing the extent of her scoliosis. As she went through this process multiple times, she decided it was a career she wanted to pursue. “I always ask them questions, and I’m interested in it.”

Although she wasn’t able to receive a scholarship in cheerleading like her friends on the team, Murakami’s academic achievements have boosted her in the application process. Her cumulative GPA is 3.5, and for the last two years, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA. Along with her grades, she has done well on her ACTs, and is taking Advanced Placement Macroeconomics. Despite the rigor of doing cheerleading, which sometimes meant that there was little time for anything else, Murakami was determined to do well in school; this attitude has resulted in academic scholarships.

“As much as everyone thinks sports is everything, school is just as important. Because cheer fell back on me with the whole scholarship thing, I can still go to college because I did well academically,” Murakami said.

Murakami was accepted into several schools, and she aims to attend one in Southern California, although she has not yet officially decided where she wants to go after graduation. Among her choices are San Diego State University, California State University, Long Beach, University of Arizona, and University of Hawaii, Manoa. In her time with the Radford cheerleading team, which she describes as family, Murakami feels she has made long-lasting relationships that will continue after high school.

In respect to her future, Murakami said, “I’m looking forward to studying radiology and learning more about scoliosis, and maybe helping other people. I hope there’s some sort of, not a cure, but…something to help people that couldn’t help me. I’m excited to start my life because even though high school is over, it’s a new chapter, and there’s so much to come, and I’m excited.”