It’s a good thing Gabby Brunkel is fast.
If not, she wouldn’t be able to make it to all of her practices. At least during the winter season.
Brunkel is a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School, and her running has subsided considerably since the entire world has shut down due to coronavirus. But when the weather was a little colder, she was almost always on the run.
Every day, she would have to go right from school to track practice, where she competed in the 100 meters, the 400 meters, hurdles and pole vault. Immediately following that, she would change clothes and head to cheerleading, where she was a flyer for the Ragdolls cheer team.
While she has always been involved in both sports, it was cheerleading that ultimately got her to do the event she excelled at the most in track.
“I always ran, but I decided to try the pole vault, because it’s a lot like flying,” said Brunkel, who was All-Catholic last year during the outdoor season in pole vault, and again this winter during the indoor season. “So one definitely helped the other. It’s a lot different. In cheer, you have a bunch of people there ready to catch you, but in track, you have a huge mat. Both are safe, but when you start to do it, it can be a little scary.
“Our track team has some really good athletes. We started doing pole vault in high school and we have really good coaches, that helped me a lot. But I think it helps that I did it in cheerleading. You’re not afraid to go up and go over. My (best) was 8 feet.”
Brunkel was one of the top athletes in track in the Catholic League, but she’s also one of the most dedicated cheerleaders in the league. It’s why she was selected as a First-Team All-Catholic member for the Ragdolls, who qualified for states and nationals this year.
And because of the sports, cheerleading was her top priority during the winter. For the good of the team.
“When we would have meets and competitions on the same weekend, I would always go to cheerleading because track is an individual sport so if you don’t show up, you aren’t really hurting the team,” said Brunkel, who lives in Parkwood. “If I missed cheerleading, it would throw everything off. You do routines and if someone isn’t there, it just messes everything up so I would do that.
“I love both sports. But I was able to compete in track when we had meets, but if they conflicted, I would do cheerleading.”
It worked well.
Not only was Brunkel able to keep the Ragdolls competitive in the competitions, but she was able to be honored with the All-Catholic nomination.
“It’s different, every team picks girls to be nominated, and then you compete,” Brunkel said. “It’s an honor to get it. I was happy. It means a lot.”
Brunkel took her job as a cheerleader very seriously. And not just in competitions.
The Ragdolls did compete in all the big meets, but they also showed up at every football game and boys basketball game. And they did their best to get the crowd into the games to give the boys a little boost in the big games.
“Football was fun, we went to a lot of games, but boys basketball, they made sure we got to every game, home and away,” Brunkel said. “They did a lot of nice things for us, they would always recognize us, and we did things, like honor the seniors on senior night, and we did whatever we could. They had a great year, and they would have gone further if everything wasn’t ruined (by coronavirus).
“This year was fun. Every game was fun, but it was a lot of fun to cheer at the Palestra. I went this year, and I went when I was a freshman. It’s great to cheer there and it was fun to go there this year.”
Brunkel doesn’t have to look too far for her cheerleading support system.
Her family includes dad, sister Francesca, 13, also a cheerleader and track star, as well as a volleyball and basketball player, and brother, Stephen, 9, a football and basketball player. Dad is more of a track fan, but he’ll do the whole cheerleading dad thing, too.
“We always are going to each other’s games, unless they conflict, because we’re always doing something,” she said. “My dad goes everywhere. He’s great about it. He even watches cheerleading and supports us. He loves sports, but he supports us in everything we do.”
Next year, he’ll be on the road to Shippensburg University to watch Brunkel compete in track. Cheerleading is probably over with, but you never know. It will be tough with her studying physical therapy.
“I always wanted a job where I could work with athletes, and I know that will be a fun job,” she said. “You’re helping athletes get better. I know it’s a lot of studying, but it’s something I really want to do.”
It certainly won’t be the first hurdle she’s overcome. She’s been doing that her whole life in track.
“I’m sad we didn’t have a chance to have a senior season, but I am happy with everything we did,” Brunkel said. “We have a great team. It would have been fun, and I’ll miss Ryan a lot. It was great. Both sports were great.”