When Ayjay Colley first signed up for cheerleading at 14, it wasn't easy for him.
"I was made fun of at first and yeah, it sucked, because it's a 'girl's sport,'" said Colley, now 22.
He initially quit cheerleading because of the bullying he encountered, but made his way back to the sport. He decided he was more comfortable just being himself — he told his friends he was gay, and dedicated himself to improving his cheerleading skills. Eventually, the insults stopped.
"It changed because I got good at tumbling, once I could flip it was like 'What the heck? Who's that guy, he can do all that stuff?" said Colley, who lives in Dartmouth, N.S.
Now Colley is nominated for coach of the year at Cheer Expo, Nova Scotia's biggest annual cheerleading competition.
"I work super hard at this because I'm truly passionate about it," he said.
Many hours in the gym
Colley has spent many extra hours in the gym, perfecting his backflips and tumbling. Those kinds of gymnastics skills are a big asset in cheerleading.
"My tumbling used to be horrible and now I'm probably one of the best in the province through basically training myself, going to a gymnastics club late at night," he said.
"Just pushing myself because I really, really love tumbling and wanted to be the best out there."
Athlete and coach
Colley has competed at international championships five times, and hopes to compete again at the upcoming world championships in Florida. He also holds contracts with cheerleading gyms to train their athletes. Colley said he aims to motivate, not just teach, the kids he coaches.
Colley credits cheerleading for teaching him the value of commitment, taking risks and being a team player.
"It's the most dangerous sport," he said. "We chuck people, we catch people — we literally risk our lives every second of our two-minute-and-thirty-second routine," he said.
Colley said he has had other coaching offers from cheerleading gyms across Canada, but he is dedicated to helping Nova Scotia athletes reach their full potential.
"I'm born and raised here and I don't want to leave Nova Scotia,"said Colley.