Written by Amy Bode
Alyse Schnurr was seven years old, just a first grader at Timothy, when she saw the Army Strong commercial. She admired the recruits in the commercial because they looked confident, strong, capable. She dreamed about one day growing up and having those two words—Army Strong--describe her.
But as she grew, her confidence and her dream of serving in the army faded. She was small and shy and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. To help her gain confidence, her parents encouraged her to take gymnastics in middle school. She was a natural at tumbling, but as soon as the coach mentioned competing, Alyse quit. She took piano lessons, but quit before her first recital. “I couldn’t imagine being in front of people,” Alyse admits. “Up until high school, I just wanted to fly under the radar. I didn’t want people to notice me.”
She loved tumbling, so her parents encouraged her to try out for Timothy’s cheerleading team her freshmen year. The coaches took notice of her natural abilities and she made the competitive cheerleading squad. She started training for competition season, sometimes practicing up to six days a week, including conditioning, weight training, and extra tumbling classes. Not only did she start gaining strength and muscle, but her confidence blossomed.
“I don’t know what I was thinking when I tried out,” Alyse remembers. “I guess I thought I’d blend in and people wouldn’t notice me. I never thought my coach would ask me to tumble in front of packed fieldhouses and a panel of judges.”
For the girl who didn’t want to compete in gymnastics, competitive cheerleading forced her into the spotlight. Over time, though, with the encouragement of her parents, coaches, and teammates, Alyse conquered her fear of performing in front of a crowd.
By the time she was a senior, Alyse had gained over 30 pounds of lean muscle and had competed at the state cheerleading competition four years in a row. She also was responsible for starting the cheerleading routine with a standing back tuck. When she took the mat for the final time as a Timothy Christian cheerleader at the state competition in January, she still had to calm her nerves.
But it was different.
And not just because she would never represent Timothy again at a state competition, but because she was no longer the girl who was paralyzed by fear.
Instead of dwelling on her nerves, she focused on the team’s theme Push Through and the team verse Philippians 3:14, which says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
It takes precision skill, physical tenacity, and mental focus to be a competitive cheerleader. According to Alyse, it’s easy to want to give up or take a break. “Our coach told us that we needed to push through and give our all, even when we don’t have our all to give,” Alyse says.
It’s this guttural strength and determination that helped fuel Alyse’s desire to pursue the dream she first had as a little girl watching the Army Strong commercial.
With her parents’ support, Alyse started her application for West Point, in West Point, New York. The United States Military Academy is highly prestigious and ultra-competitive with notable alumni like President Dwight D. Eisenhower and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Last summer, Alyse attended a weeklong summer camp at West Point, which lets prospective students experience life on a military campus. By five o’clock in the morning, Alyse was in formation, ready for training that included shooting machine guns and throwing grenades. She attended classes and experienced what life as a “plebe” is like. “I loved it!” Alyse says. “I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Still, the application process was daunting. Every applicant not only needs outstanding grades, top-tier test scores and glowing teacher recommendations, but they also need a congressional nomination, which is a hurdle for even the most accomplished students. And even with a congressional nomination, acceptance into West Point is not guaranteed. Less than 10% of all applicants are accepted.
Alyse contacted all three of her congressional representatives and applied for a nomination. Only one, Congressman Peter Roskam, invited her for an interview. It took Congressman Roskam three months to announce her nomination.
Even with such a competitive application process, Alyse stayed focused on her goal and did not apply to any other colleges. “I attended a church service during camp at West Point,” Alyse says, “and I just felt like God was in control. I had a sense of peace and calm about the whole application process. I was nervous, but reassured.”
Finally in mid-February, over a year after she first started the application process, Alyse received her acceptance letter.
“I was shocked,” Alyse says. “I just cried. All the work, all the dreaming, finally paid off.”
Alyse was one of 13,827 students who applied. One of 4,120 nominated. And one of 1,257 accepted. She will join the “Long Gray Line” of West Point graduates, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army and required to serve for five years after she graduates.
This though, is her calling and a point of honor, pride, and duty.
Because she will also earn a bachelor’s degree while at West Point, she plans to major in psychology. While Alyse has tamed her fears and anxiety, she can still remember what it felt like when it bubbled up, paralyzing her. It’s conquering these fears that has shaped and pushed her towards West Point. One day, she hopes to work with veterans who suffer from PTSD.
Alyse reports to West Point on July 3. Once on campus, she will have 60 seconds to say goodbye to her parents. “They will take all my civilian belongings, give me new clothes, and I start 6 weeks of boot camp.” Alyse adds, “And boot camp is exactly like what you see in the movies.”
Boot camp will be the toughest thing Alyse has ever done. But she’s training, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. She is determined to make it through. “I know I’m going to have to push through a lot of adversity and hardship that I’ve never faced before,” Alyse says. “I’m going to try to remember what my cheer coaches at TC taught me: Push through towards the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. I know that boot camp won’t last forever. But no matter what, I need to rely on God for strength.”
Amy Bode is a writer, mom of three Timothy students, and a follower of Christ. Want to share your Timothy Story? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.