CLARA AND JAMIE TENGWALL MET WHILE CHEERLEADERS IN COLLEGE AND CONTINUE TO CHEER EACH OTHER ON TO THIS DAY
In general, it is probably not the best idea to let the guy you just met throw you into the air as high as he can or try to balance you on one arm over his head. Right? There are exceptions to every rule, though. For Clara and Jamie Tengwall, who met as cheerleaders for the University of Illinois, a friendship built on teamwork and trust from the very beginning eventually grew into love and a beautiful family. The Tengwalls are happy to call Texarkana home for five years now, and they believe that sometimes it is the most unexpected opportunities that can lead to some of your greatest blessings.
Both natives of Illinois, Jamie grew up in Champaign, and Clara hails from Metropolis, “the home of Superman.” “I think that’s one reason we love Texarkana so much,” Clara said. “We like the small town feel, and I love being able to run into friends at the grocery store pretty much every time I go shopping.” With their daughter Emma (5) and son Conrad (10 months), the Tengwalls agree that the people and community they found here truly won them over. “We lived in Dallas for about eight years prior to Texarkana, and we feel like this is a great community to raise our family,” Jamie said. “We’ve made so many good friends and love the people here.”
Neither Clara nor Jamie grew up with the goal of college cheerleader in mind. “I actually got a pretty late start and didn’t cheer at all until I was a sophomore in high school,” Clara said. “I fell in love with it and just kept practicing and trying to improve.” Clara remembers driving herself to gymnastics practice 30 minutes away several times a week to learn how to tumble, and being happy to do it. “To really be your best at something takes a lot of commitment, and I think it has to come from inside,” Clara said. “It takes personal drive to put your all into something and stay committed.”
As she was approaching graduation, Clara set her sights on cheering for the Fighting Illini. Knowing that collegiate cheer was on a completely different level than high school, Clara asked a friend on the squad if she knew any of the male cheerleaders that would help her learn the partner stunts. Jamie was one of the guys that volunteered. Clara made the three- to four-hour drive up to the university probably three or four times to practice. “At tryouts, you had to perform stunts with a few of the male cheerleaders, and of course Jamie was one of the guys I partnered with.” Of the 70-75 girls that tried out that year, Clara was one of only four new girls that was added to the squad.
Jamie’s road to collegiate cheer was a bit different in that this was never a route he planned to take. “I grew up playing baseball, football and hockey,” he said. “You could probably write a whole story just about male cheerleading, but the main point is that any of the stereotypes people may have about it are probably wrong. Looking back, I’m just glad that when this opportunity presented itself, I decided to give it a try.” With no gymnastics background, Jamie jokes that he is not a tumbler and prefers to keep his feet on the ground. “He’s very modest,” Clara said. “He was one of the best male stunters on the team and was always selected to travel and be at the biggest events.”
Like most college athletes can attest to, the time commitment to your sport is intense, and for the cheer squad, the season never ends as football season rolls right into basketball season for the men’s and women’s teams. In addition to the games and pep rallies, they had practice three evenings a week for a few hours each and early morning workouts just as frequently. “They would rotate the squad a little bit, so that not everyone was cheering at every game, and only a select group would travel with the team,” Clara explained. “But there were also a lot of public appearances and events. As cheerleaders, you are really an ambassador for not only the athletic program, but the whole university.”
Jamie and Clara agree that collegiate level cheer is an experience they are so grateful to have had. “To stand in front of 60,000 people that are yelling back what you tell them to say – it is exhilarating,” Clara said. “It is such an adrenaline rush and so much fun!” Jamie agrees, but perhaps even better than the bright lights and the big crowds, he says, is the lifelong friendships they made. “It was like joining a big family, not just with the other cheerleaders but with the football players, basketball teams – we all spent a lot of time together, and these are still some of our closest friends. Of course, most importantly, it led me to my beautiful wife.”
Jamie and Clara took their time as friends first, but as they moved away from cheerleading to focus on degrees, they also had more time to let their relationship grow. “We are very like-minded in values and goals,” Clara said. “We’re probably more alike than we are different.” They each describe the other as kind, intelligent, handsome and beautiful. “More than anything, Jamie has such a strong character, and is a genuinely good person,” Clara said. What does Jamie love most about his wife? “She is an incredibly caring and thoughtful person. She always puts others before herself.”
When Clara’s sports management degree scored her an internship with the Texas Rangers Baseball Organization after graduation, it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up, knowing that Jamie was on his way. “I was able to transfer to Texas about a month later, and it really felt like part of God’s plan,” he said. “We fell in love with Texas almost immediately, and as hard as it is to move away from family, we knew this was where we wanted to be.”
Happy to call Texarkana home, Jamie and Clara Tengwall continue to cheer each other on. As the District Sales Manager for Texas Farm Bureau Insurance, Jamie loves being able to help others reach their goals, and Clara has enjoyed the all-encompassing role of stay-at-home-mom since they settled here with a newborn in 2014. With another little one in tow, the Tengwalls still love to travel and stay active and spend their free time with friends and family. “We love to see new places, but it always feels good to come back home,” they agree. “We are just so grateful for our family, our happy, healthy children, and for every opportunity that God has given us.”