Kerry Merrett – My Story

I grew up in country Victoria…..Wangaratta to be exact. Dad was a local real estate agent and football player and mum, the youngest daughter of the Baker family, well known in Albury because they owned a car dealership. There was nothing very special about us. My brother and I attended the local State School. On weekends, we played sport, hung out with our friends and helped dad out on a hobby farm.
It was a simple life but I was happy. It felt like I was blessed with the best mother in the world. She was invested, measured, loving and a great role model.

I started ballet at an early age and grew to love it. My favourite memories all circle around ballet; weekends spent at the old Victoria Hotel, dressing up and attending the Australian ballet, practise, exams & end of year concerts, books on ballet stories, autobiographies of famous dancers and even listening to records of the sound tracks from great ballets as I fell asleep at night. In those days, I really, thought I was going to be a ‘dancer’.

At the age of 14, I successfully auditioned for the Victorian College of the Arts. It was their inaugural year and I was to be one of their first ever students. It meant leaving the only home I’d ever known and going to the ‘big smoke’ alone….such an adventure for a young girl but also quite terrifying. As I prepared to leave, news came that devastated our family. My mother had cancer. It was not the first time but I don’t think I was old enough the first time to truly understand the significance. Such news only heightened how anxious I was about leaving town but mum wanted me to dance and so I left to pursue my dream.

I lived with a lovely family who took me in and who had an only daughter very much in need of companionship. We became like sisters and I think I knew at the time that I was giving something to them in the same way they looked after me. Six short months later though, my mum was sick. I went home for a weekend visit. My grandma (her mum) was on her way to look after us all but she never arrived. I will never forget the phone call I took. My grandma had died in a car accident coming to care for my mum. It was that day I decided not to return to Melbourne.

I don’t think I would have ever forgiven myself if I hadn’t spent those last months with my mum. At 15, I became the house cook & acted as a guardian to my brother. I rode my bike to the hospital to visit mum each night. Early in 1979, I went on a school camp to Wilson’s Promentary. It’s a beautiful part of the world but for me it holds bad memories. I’d walked for three days straight and as I entered base camp on the last day, I was approached by a teacher. My mum had slipped into a coma and was not expected to make it through the night. My uncle flew me home and as I sat beside my mum not knowing if she could even hear me, I promised to make her proud.

In the coming years, I picked up the pieces boarding with a local family to finish high school. An amazing physical education teacher started a gymnastics club at our school and I immersed myself in learning new tricks and skills. I did gym before & after school and every lunch time. When I think back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to have such a dedicated educator who gave so much of her time to provide this opportunity for us. It distracted me, kept me busy, gave me a purpose and in our second year our team won the schools division at the major competition for the year. I was also blessed with a very special ballet teacher. Leslie Jenkins taught me to dance and she taught me to teach. She took me into her home on weekends so I could do hours of ballet and weekends were spent with ballet friends. I still got to do what I loved.

Despite everything, I feel like I had an amazing childhood. I had a mother who loved me, significant people in my life who made a difference and sports and interests about which I was passionate. It was though, time to grow up. I went to teacher’s college, completed a degree and secured my first teaching job. This was the first of many schools I worked in. Funnily enough, though technically a classroom teacher and in later years, a teacher librarian, I was always drawn to the extra-curricular activities. I volunteered my time setting up & running gymnastics clubs, producing school musicals, orchestrating special events & even convinced over 80% of students to become part of a school chess club….no small feat in a day and age where that might be considered ‘nerdy’. My greatest joys in my work were these projects. Seeing children become invested, giving them a purpose or focus and watching then develop new skills and passion was what motivated me.

It was while at work one day that I received a call that would change my life. The president of a very small local gym club phoned. The club needed a new administrator and someone had thought I might be the answer. With the support of Paul, my very patient and trusting husband, I left a secure teaching job
and went to work at Western Districts Gymnastics club. There were 80 children then, people leaving the club in droves, a really ‘run down’ building and a club with a pretty poor reputation at the time. I had no experience running a club but I was passionate about the project. Both my children had attended Western Districts for a short time and though there were shortcomings, I could see the potential. In the next 10 years and with the help of some fantastic staff, we built a club to be proud of. The club drew athletes beyond what we could cater for in the end. There were 700 members, another 150 on waiting lists. Competitively, our athletes were well respected and we never had to advertise. Word of mouth was all we needed to attract clients.

I was tired though. As a committee run operation, I didn’t have full control and in the meantime, I was developing another passion. My daughter had moved from gymnastics to cheerleading. I really wasn’t too sure about this new sport as like most, I thought cheer was what was portrayed in the American movies; chants, pom poms and ‘bitchy girls’. If you had told me at the time that I’d love it as much as I do now, I would simply have laughed.
Mid 2016, I sat down with Paul over a glass of red wine and said to him, “You ‘gotta’ hear me out…..I want to open a cheer gym’. Poor Paul!!!!

The rest is history. At the beginning of October 2016, Athena Cheer Academy opened its doors.
Every day is a challenge but I hold on to what motivates and drives me;

I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives
I want to be the mentor and teacher that once I was so lucky to encounter
I want to go to work every day doing something I love
I want to work with people who inspire and make the most out of life
I want people to see what an amazing sport cheer is and learn to love it as I do
I want to make my mother proud
In short…..I want to deliver cheer with class and integrity.

These are the values that drive me and my story is what has shaped my ideals!

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