Cailin McDowell shares her favourite memories from Ottawa and the CFL, and gives us a glimpse of her life as a Cheerleader for the Philadelphia Eagles, both on and off the field.
What were some of your favourite memories of growing up in Ottawa?
I grew up in the west end of Ottawa and attended Sacred Heart Catholic High School. Most of my favorite childhood memories revolve around being at the ice rink. When I think back on my childhood, I think about driving to and from the rink with my dad, going camping in our beautiful provincial parks, watching my favorite movies over and over again with my mum, while Sunday dinner was cooking in the kitchen and hanging out with my best friend Lauren, we were inseparable growing up.
What sports did you play growing up? When did you first get into cheerleading?
I grew up as a competitive figure skater! I began skating at the age of three, started competing at the age of five and continued through the Junior competitive level for Skate Canada until I was in my early twenties. Skating was my everything, and I will be forever grateful to the sport that raised me. I only started cheerleading at the age of 19, for Ravens Rhythm, which was my university’s sideline dance team. I attended Carleton University, where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Political Science with honors.
I was also on the Carleton Figure Skating Team at the time and practices were very early in the mornings. Because of this I felt like I had the time to do another activity as I wanted to become more involved in campus life. I had attended a homecoming football game, and that’s where I saw the cheer team for the first time. I loved how confident they looked, and how much joy it seemed to bring them. I knew almost immediately that it was something I wanted to be part of. I will never forget my head coach, Melany Morrison, yelling “impress me #17!” at our auditions. She saw something in me and pushed me to be the best that I could be. Performance quality did come very naturally to me from my years in figure skating, but it did take time to learn all the basics sideline cheer has to offer.
Tell us about your experience being a cheerleader for the Ottawa Redblacks. What are some of your favourite memories from that period of time – and who were some of the people that helped you the most when you first started out?
I cherished the five seasons I had with the Ottawa Redblacks Cheer & Dance Team. It was truly some of the best years of my life. I made lifelong friends, had the opportunity to travel the country and get a taste of what it felt like to be a part of something bigger than myself. My most treasured memory was being on the sidelines, cheering the Redblacks on to win the 104th Grey Cup. There is nothing like hearing the roar of the crowd, seeing everyone’s hard work pay off, and representing your hometown as they achieve a franchise milestone. The Redblacks program really prepared me for the high standards and practices that the Philadelphia Eagles have. Though out of all the veterans who came before me, Jenny Laviolette was a standout. Jenny was a captain on the stunt side of the team, but her kindness, professionalism, attention to detail, and her desire to want our team to be the best that it could be, really inspired me to want to be a captain and lead in the way that she did.
You and your husband, Daniel, both met while working in the sports industry. Tell us about how you first met and have bonded over sports. Was it love at first sight for you both – or did he have to work on you (or vice versa) to win you over?
Daniel definitely took interest in me first haha! But he was very persistent, and it didn’t take very long at all for me to fall in love with the amazing person that he is. We met in Ottawa and had to do long distance for a couple of years before I made the move to be with him in the United States. We are both extremely competitive and are hugely into sports. We are lucky enough to be located very close to all the major stadiums in South Philadelphia, so we spend a lot of our free time attending Philly sporting events. Daniel loved converting me into an all-around Philadelphia sports fan and when we’re not cheering on our teams, we love to go golfing together.
You and Daniel were married in June here in Ottawa, why was it important to both of you to be married here in your hometown?
It was extremely important for the both of us to marry in the city where we met. We got engaged in Philadelphia at Dilworth Park on the ice rink in front of City Hall. So, it was special for us to have gotten engaged around where Daniel grew up and married where I did.
I also think it was especially important for me to get married in my hometown because it was a reminder that no matter where I’m going, or where I’m at, Ottawa will always be my home. We also fell in love with our venue, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, which was the perfect place for us to welcome Daniel’s family to Ottawa, a city that holds a very special place in our hearts and will always be a reminder of the time we shared there.
Tell us about how you became a Cheerleader for the Philadelphia Eagles. Was it a long tryout process, was it intimidating/were you nervous or are you not someone that gets anxiety about things?
Cheering in the NFL was always a lifelong dream. I was lucky enough to have cheered for five seasons in the CFL and spent two of those seasons as team captain. It shaped who I am as a dancer and as a brand ambassador. However, when I retired from the CFL, I never really felt like that chapter of my life was fully closed. I had auditioned for the Eagles two times before I made the team. I took a step back, and thought what can I do to make myself the best version of myself I can be? I joined the Philadelphia Flyers Ice Team, which was an incredible experience and gave me experience cheering in the United States. But I knew that cheering for the Eagles was my ultimate goal. The audition process really showcases what amazing talent we have come to auditions every year. It is very competitive, and the organization is always looking for well-rounded individuals who have a passion for cheer and dance and want to represent the city and team as global brand ambassadors. We have nurses, teachers, chemists, engineers, etc. on this team and it really is an honor to be amongst them. Yes, I was very nervous! I put everything I had into auditioning and it’s always scary putting yourself out there, but you never know, unless you try, and I’m so glad I never gave up on my dream.
You are one of only 9 new members this season to the Eagles Cheerleading Team, chosen out of hundreds of applicants around the world, which is truly a remarkable feat. Who was the first person you called and why was it important for you to call that person first when you got the news you made the team?
I was lucky enough to have received a call from one of the veterans, letting me know that I had made the team. We had been waiting all day to find out the results. I must have refreshed my email and the official page about 500 times! As fate should have it, my mum was in town visiting so both she and my husband got to witness the call when I found out I made the team, which was really special. I then called my dad back home in Canada, followed by several members of my husband’s family, who have been die hard Eagles fans for generations!
The Eagles Cheerleaders are well-known for their community service. What are some things that the team is going to be doing this year in the Philadelphia community and why is it important to you that the team gives back to the city?
One of the best things about being on this team, is being able to give back to the community. I recently obtained my United States Permanent Residency, which allowed me the opportunity to integrate into the Philadelphia community and connect with people from all different backgrounds who have this shared experience. I love being able to meet people from all different walks of life. The effort that the Eagles organization puts forth to ensure that we have the opportunity to be involved in as many community events as possible is outstanding. One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to be a part of the Eagles Organization, is their commitment to the Autistic community. I have a family member on the spectrum and so it really drove me to want to be a part of an organization that brings so much awareness to a cause so near and dear to my heart. The Eagles Autism Foundation raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in support of this initiative, and I am so proud to be an extension of that important community outreach.
What are you excited about the most this season being an NFL Cheerleader?
I am most looking forward to being back on the field. For me, home is where the field is. One of our captain’s Shardae, shared a quote with us by Scott O’Neil at the beginning of the season, that says, “Be where your feet are”, meaning be present, be mindful and soak in every extraordinary experience that we are given as cheerleaders. Our choreographer Brielle has worked tirelessly to create awe-inspiring routines that showcase the incredible talent we have on the team this year. I love the game of football; I love the city of Philadelphia and I’m so excited to perform for the best fans in the NFL. The energy in the stadium is electric so I’m really looking forward to looking up and seeing 70,000 faces in the crowd, knowing I am a part of something bigger than this small-town Canadian girl could have ever dreamed of.
Tell us a little about you away from the field:
What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
The best concert I’ve ever been to was the Shania Twain half time performance at the 105th Grey Cup hosted by Ottawa. It was snowing, she entered on a sleigh pulled by huskies, wearing a bedazzled red jumpsuit… how Canadian … how iconic!? Plus, we were on the field in the crowd for the show, best seats in the house.
What is the best movie you’ve seen?
I love Remember the Titans; I watch it every fall. Though, I think a Stranger Things adaptation into a movie would be epic!Who is someone you admire and why?
I admire my mother most. She is the strongest person I know and carries herself with such grace, class and always leads with kindness. I hope to be even half the woman she is one day.
What song reminds you of your childhood?
Anything by The Beatles or any rock song from the 70’s. Very thankful that both of my parents have amazing taste in music, so I grew up with the classics!
What are 3 things you never leave home without?
I never leave home without my cellphone, my passport (they won’t accept any other form of my ID in the US) and a package of gum.
What are your 3 favourite places to eat in Ottawa?
I am a diehard Mucho Burrito fan! Chipotle has nothing on them! Lonestar’s fajitas are unmatched and if I’m looking for good food with a good atmosphere, I love grabbing food and drinks with friends anywhere at Lansdowne or in the Market.
Tell us about your family and the role they’ve played in supporting you?
My husband is the most supportive person in the entire world. He was there for me when I didn’t initially make the team and encouraged me to never give up on my dream. With Daniel as my partner, I know that together we can achieve great things in life.
My dad has always said that “you get out of life what you put into it”, which has always driven my work ethic and my mum has always been my biggest cheerleader, reminding me that I can do whatever I set my mind to.
What piece of advice would you give to someone reading this that aspires to follow in your footsteps one day?
I would say that it’s never too late to pursue something that you love! I could have easily taken my ‘no’ from the Eagles the first two times and given up. I could have been discouraged that I don’t come from a studio/competition dance background and thought I’d never make it. I could have said, ‘You know what Cailin, you’re getting older, time to hang up the poms.’ But I persevered, I quieted all the discouraging voices in my head telling me why I couldn’t do it and focused on why I had to do it for myself. I will be forever grateful for trusting that God had bigger plans for me and would encourage anyone to step out of their comfort zone and always believe in the power of manifesting your dreams.