She was just starting college and was practicing to get into the Collegiate Dance Squad. Dancing was something that she had always loved to do, and she had never imagined her life without it. But at 19, she was forced to put aside those things after a car accident left her with limited mobility. The doctors told her that she would be limited in all physical activities for the rest of her life, and that she’d never again be able to dance like she used to.
During the two and a half years of rehabilitation after the accident, she gave birth to a baby girl. Though the birth of her daughter, MaKenna, was her “single greatest accomplishment,” she was dealing with the added toll on her body. Her self-image was crumbling due to the physical strains and she was struggling in an unhappy marriage. Those factors lead to her to gaining over 80 pounds.
This is where the story would end for the average person, but DeAnna Raihl isn’t the average person.
After leaving her husband and moving out with nothing but her daughter and a suitcase, still eighty pounds overweight and not knowing if she could ever dance again, DeAnna was standing with her daughter one day in a fast food restaurant ordering a cheeseburger, super-size fries and diet coke. It was then that something she witnessed would change her life forever.
“I saw an overweight child and I had so much empathy and sadness because this child was 2 years old,” Raihl said. “Her mother was overweight, and I thought that the baby may never stand a chance if she isn’t shown good eating habits and how to be fit by the mommy.” DeAnna then took a look at herself and what type of role model she was for her daughter and decided to change.
“I’m an all-or-nothing type of girl”
Over the next two years, she slowly lost over one hundred pounds and became better conditioned than she had been prior to the auto accident.
“Losing weight isn’t about dieting or working yourself to death on a treadmill,” she said. “It’s about getting into positive habits with eating and exercise and finding what works best for you.”
Now, DeAnna seemed to have everything she needed to be happy. She had a wonderful daughter, she owned her own house, she had a great job as a banker, she was volunteering for her community and she was on the childcare board of her daughter’s daycare. She knew that she should be completely happy, but one night while praying, she realized she was missing something.
“I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I stayed up late asking what it was going to take to make ME happy, not DeAnna the mommy, not DeAnna the employee, but DeAnna the person. It was that night that I had a dream about the SeaGals.”
This wasn’t the first time she had aspired to be a Seattle SeaGal. “From when I was 4, I remember going to (Seattle) Seahawk games with my dad and watching the SeaGals. I remember thinking that they were so pretty and such amazing dancers, and one day I wanted to be out there.”
When she woke from her dream about the SeaGals and started her 5:30 A.M. workout, she turned on the radio and immediately heard the announcement that SeaGal tryouts were 1 month later.
“Ok, that’s a sign,” she said. “I gotta do this! My daughter was now 4 and I didn’t want to keep telling her to go after her dreams while mommy never did”.
“If I’m not going to give 110%, then I don’t want to do it”
With only one month before tryouts, DeAnna knew that it would be a miracle if she could pull it off. She still didn’t know if she could dance like she had before the accident and she had no idea what it would take to make the squad. So, she took time off of work to concentrate on her goal. She started researching the things that she would need to know for the tryouts and she also enrolled in dance lessons to try to make her body and mind remember the dance routines that she had known years before. She trained several hours a day.
DeAnna then took part in the formal workshop put on by the SeaGals. It was here that she met Karen, one of the veteran SeaGals and someone that DeAnna considered an inspiration because of her work in the Ms. Fitness Pageants. Karen took DeAnna under her wing during the workshops and was very encouraging.
“She was awesome; I couldn’t have done any of this without her help.”
The day of the tryouts arrived and there were hundreds of girls all trying for a spot. “It was a blur, everything about it was a blur,” she recalls. “All of these girls are beautiful, they all know how to do their makeup and they all dance wonderfully, while the small town girl from Stanwood (Washington), in her homemade costume, sits and watches. It was very unnerving.”
But with each round, her number remained. “I would make the other girls around me look at my number and verify for me that I had moved on to the next round, I just couldn’t believe it.”
When she made it into the final round, she was satisfied with her results. “Just to make it into the finals was enough for me. I was basically just elated that I had dared to begin.”
She did more than make the finals - DeAnna was picked as a member of the 2003 SeaGal squad. When asked how long it took to finally sink in, she answered, “it still hasn’t.”
DeAnna recently secured a spot on the 2004 SeaGals as well.
I asked Sarah, a fellow member of the 2003/2004 SeaGals squad, about DeAnna and she described her with one word, “dedicated.”
“She is the most dedicated, hard-working girl on the team. She works her tail off every week." She went on to say that DeAnna was truly an inspiration to the rest of the girls on the squad.
“Life isn’t just about what you get out of it; it’s also about what you put into it”
One would think that her life would get easier after what she had gone through to accomplish her goals and become a SeaGal, but as I said before, DeAnna isn’t your average person.
An average week for her consists of juggling being a single mom to her daughter, working a full time job as a Marine Lending Assistant for People’s Bank, 10-14 hours of personal fitness time (including cardio, weights, stretching, and yoga), community charity work, night school at the University of Washington to get her degree, and her commitments to the SeaGals including appearances and SeaGal practices (2-3 a week plus personal practice of the routines, sometimes even more during “boot camp” and game weeks).
One of her favorite parts of being a SeaGal is the volunteer charity work that each member of the squad gets the opportunity to participate in. The SeaGals actively participate in community events and charities including the SeaGal Auction, and annual event that raises money around the holidays for local charities such as the Broadview Emergency Shelter, which takes-in and supports abused women and mothers with families in the Seattle area.
“Last year for Christmas, our auction filled every families’ wish list for the families at the (Broadview Emergency) center,” DeAnna said proudly. They also had enough to buy some extras for the shelter itself. “I would be helping there all day if I could.”
The SeaGals also make several appearances to local children’s’ hospitals, as well as travel overseas to entertain troops.
As for her future, DeAnna says that she wants to continue to concentrate on taking care of her daughter. “My greatest accomplishment in life so far is raising my daughter to be kind.”. But for herself, she wants to learn to surf in California. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do”.
“Life is motivation enough”
Since that day in a fast food restaurant, DeAnna had drawn so much motivation from her dreams and her goals, but now that she had attained many of those goals, what continues to motive and drive her to keep such a hectic schedule?
“Life.” she answered. “I’ve had some near-death experiences and just being able to dance and run and live life is such a blessing. To see my daughter watching me dance at Seahawk games, seeing her watch mommy do something that she loves, it’s such a blessing and a gift.”
Though she keeps a very busy schedule, she actually would like to do more. “If I could have one wish, it would be to have more time in the day” she said. “I have so much I still want to do and I don’t want anything to get in my way.”
*Writer’s note: I would like to thank People’s Bank (http://www.peoplesbank-wa.com), Garrett Thiemens, SeaGals Director Sherri Thompson, and the entire Seahawks organization for making this article possible. If you are interested in donating time or money to the Broadview Emergency Shelter, you can contact them directly at (206) 299-2500, or toll free at 1-877-622-3122.
Mark Olsen writes for
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