Johnni Schueman didn't think the moment would be so emotional.
Her decision to leave competitive sports behind after the state track meet had been made long ago. It hadn't been a tough choice to make, so she hadn't given it a second thought.
But as she took off her spikes for the final time at Drake Stadium, it hit her.
This was really it. Her athletic career was over.
Schueman began to cry.
“I started thinking that I'll never get to do another high school sport again. I was completely done,” she said. “That's where you make so many of your high school memories — during sports. It's weird to see it end, but I'm excited to move on to something new.”
Three days later, the “something new” began as Schueman made her debut as an Iowa State cheerleader when the Cyclone Tailgate Tour made its stop at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.
Schueman belongs to a family of runners. Her mom, Beth, and aunt, Susie McCowen, were track standouts at the former Oakland High School. McCowen went on to run at Iowa State.
Johnni followed in their footsteps.
Schueman earned seven state medals while at A-H-S-T High School in Avoca. She won seven Western Iowa Conference event championships and holds seven school records.
In her final race, she finished seventh in the Class 1-A 100-meter dash. It was the fourth time in her career she had placed in the event at the state meet. Schueman called it her biggest athletic accomplishment, saying she knew she had peaked during her junior season.
“This was a hard year,” she said. “I could tell I wasn't as fast. But, all year, I just wanted to make state that fourth year. And once I got there, my goal was to make finals. I did, and that was really special.”
If she'd wanted, Schueman could've kept running competitively. Some smaller four-year schools in Iowa inquired about her interest in college track. She never really considered it.
For Schueman, the state meet was a satisfying end to her love-hate relationship with her best sport.
“I didn't necessarily always like track,” she said, “but I did pretty well at it.”
Schueman kept a busy schedule at A-H-S-T.
In addition to her four years of track, she played three seasons of volleyball and one of basketball, competed on the speech team and was a member of the dance squad.
She was also a cheerleader for football and wrestling. It became the focus of her future once she gave up competitive gymnastics after seven years to participate in athletics at her high school.
“When I was little, I always just wanted to do gymnastics,” she said. “But it got so time-consuming that, by the time I was in high school, I kind of knew I wanted to cheer in college.”
Collegiate cheerleading is much different from what Schueman did in high school, however, because of its emphasis on tumbling and stunt work. She knew her background in gymnastics would certainly help, but she took private lessons and tumbled on her own to stay sharp.
To land a spot on any collegiate cheer team, Schueman would have to survive a tryout. She had initially planned on going elsewhere, then she saw the kinesiology building at ISU.
“I had my heart set on Iowa or Nebraska,” she said. “Then I went on a college visit to Iowa State, and I fell in love with the campus. It just kind of felt right.”
Schueman said she's still learning to be a Cyclone fan. Her roots reside elsewhere.
“I grew up a Husker,” she said. “My dad's getting ready to kick me out of the house.”
Schueman spent three days in Ames for the Cyclone cheerleading tryout in early May.
It was open to anyone attending Iowa State this fall, including the returning members from last year's squad. More than 80 potential cheerleaders were competing for 37 total spots.
“It was such a long and stressful weekend,” Schueman said. “I didn't know what to expect at all. It was a Division I college, but I knew I was going to be disappointed if I didn't make it.”
Friday consisted of a practice, where potential cheerleaders learned the fight song that would play during their performances and began working with stunt groups. Tumbling tryouts were held the next morning, followed by stunt-team tryouts the next night.
Each session lasted three grueling hours. Cuts were made throughout the weekend.
Every cheerleader was assigned a number. If that number was posted at the end, you advanced to the next round. The final test was the fight-song performance Sunday morning.
There was a lunch break before the numbers of those who made the team were posted.
Schueman's was among the 24 on ISU's all-girls squad. Another 13 made the co-ed team.
“Once I saw it, I was so relieved,” she said. “I've had tons of tryouts throughout my lifetime, but this one was just so big. It's hard to sink in that I'm cheering for a Division I school.”
Schueman found out about the Cyclone Tailgate Tour before she left the tryout.
Three days after her final race at state — and two days after her graduation from A-H-S-T — she was at the zoo in an Iowa State cheerleading uniform beginning the next stage of her life.
She helped children put on temporary tattoos with the Cyclone mascot, posed for pictures with Iowa State fans and signed autographs — all before she'd even left home for Ames.
“I don't feel famous or anything,” she said. “But when kids come up and ask if they can take a picture with you or have your autograph, it's such a weird feeling because I don't feel any different. But they look up to you, so it's really neat.”
Schueman joined the Tailgate Tour for one other stop before it recently ended. She said she'll remain on call to volunteer for public appearances for ISU throughout the summer.
Prior to leaving for Ames to stay, she'll join many other cheerleaders and dance-team members at Iowa State to perform at the Shrine Bowl in late July.
After that, she's off to begin her first season of cheering on the Cyclone football, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams in front of thousands of fans.
It'll be like running in the state meet at Drake Stadium all over again.
“I'll probably be nervous being in front of that many people,” Schueman said. “Coming from a 1-A school, no one even pays attention to the cheerleaders. Now, I'm going to be in front of a student section (and a stadium full of fans). It will be exciting.”