40-year-old mother overcomes obstacles to become Saintsation

FOX 8 photo
FOX 8 photo
FOX 8 photo
FOX 8 photo

Kriste Lewis, 40, is cheerful at her core. Now she is preparing to cheer on the New Orleans Saints as part of a dream come true.

In many ways, her moves on the field come naturally.

"I have not had a dance class since I was 11-years-old," said Lewis.

She is one of the newest Saintsations, the team's dance and cheering team.

"There's been just so many interviews and just whirlwinds. I was so excited about talking to you guys because you guys are New Orleans," Lewis said sitting in her well appointed home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

It was the first time she wore one of her black and gold outfits, which she called the dress.

"I got so excited because I've been dying to wear this one. I hadn't gotten to wear it yet," said Lewis.

Saintsations do not usually make national headlines, but Lewis did. She made several appearances on nationally televised news programs in recent days and her story has appeared in national newspapers, too.

In some ways she's in disbelief.

"I made three cuts the first day," she said about the three day audition.

The former school teacher grew up along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and was a cheerleader in high school, but not in college.

"I kept thinking - well, I won't make the next cut, so I better kill this. You know, I better get this and I would just go in there and do my very best and they just kept calling me back," she said.

Her life has not been the same since.

When asked about her reasons for auditioning, Lewis said there were a few.

"Turning 40 was the biggest. It was a milestone birthday and I wanted to do that. The reason why I wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday is because of my kidney disease," she said.

Lewis has been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease.

"Because my next milestone birthday at 50 could possibly be marked with dialysis and a kidney transplant, so I wanted this one to really count," said Lewis.

Her third reason included long held dreams.

"I was a little girl, you know, growing up that wanted to be a cheerleader and Miss America. Those were the two things I wanted to be, so at least I can do this one," she said.

Still, Lewis said she almost backed away from the audition.

"I was afraid. It was fear, I mean I almost did not get out of the car the first night that we went to a clinic, and I almost didn't get out of the car. I was that afraid," she said.

But fueled by her deep faith, she decided to go for it.

"I felt like I just needed to do it just to, you know, kind of send it home and just seal the deal. I'm so glad that I did," she said.

She will never forget the interview process.

"As I went in, I introduced myself, you know. I said 'hi I'm Kriste. I'm 40-years-old and I'm a mom of two.' They were kind of like, what? And they started really looking at my application then because, of course, I'd filled it out on the application," said Lewis.

She said her husband of 18 years, Tim, is all in.

"Y'all he loves to watch me practice," she said of her husband.

Her two sons, Jake, 14, and Rob, 11, are thrilled as well.

"It's really exciting, just overwhelming," said Rob as he wore a jersey with Drew Brees' number. He hopes his mom's new status with the Saints with work in his favor.

"All the Saintsations are coming to my birthday party," he said jokingly.

For Kriste Lewis, having so many black and gold outfits is exciting. She called herself a 'girlie-girl.'

But all the fanfare can't eclipse the potentially life altering disease she learned of 14-years-ago.

"It is very frightening. I saw my mother who also has polycystic kidney disease go through dialysis and she went through a kidney transplant," said Lewis.

There is no cure for the disease.

"So at some point in my life, that will be me," stated Lewis.

For now, she has her mind on August 15. That will be the first time she will perform at a Saints game. While her job is to cheer for the home team, she said her cheers will be for countless others too.

"People who are sick, people who are just moms and they're just busy and they're giving everything they've got to their children instead of giving anything to themselves - I will be cheering for all those people," Lewis stated.

In the weeks to come, she will make the two hour road trip to New Orleans along with a few other Saintsations from her area.

"We all pile up in the car. There's pom-poms hanging out of the truck and we head to New Orleans. I love a road trip," she said with excitement.

For Lewis, ignoring her doubts paid off in a major way.

"I never thought I would make the team. But I have and I never thought anybody would really be interested in knowing my story," she said.

A story that now includes gearing up for a football season of a lifetime.

"I just want to say... Go Saints!"

Lewis is one of only two NFL cheerleaders in her 40s, and she's the oldest to ever audition for the Saintsations

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