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40-Year-Old Mom Fighting A Kidney Disease Fulfills Her Dream Of Becoming An NFL Cheerleader

"I know my time is limited. I want to make every day count."

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Kriste Lewis, 40, is a dance instructor who lives with her husband and two sons in Mississippi.

AP Photo/Bill Haber

Fourteen years ago, Lewis was diagnosed with a debilitating kidney disease that runs in her family. The disease eventually leads to the need for dialysis and a kidney transplant. Having watched her mother go through two failed kidney transplants, Lewis decided to live a healthy life.

In April, Lewis crossed off one of the items on her bucket list: She auditioned for a place in the New Orleans Saints cheerleading squad known as the Saintsations.

"For me, trying out for the Saintsations was something I always wanted to do," Lewis told Hattiesburg American. "It was on my bucket list. I grew up on the coast and was a Saints fan all my life. … I went into (the tryout) with the idea that the audition would be a celebration."

And she made it to the team of 36, becoming one of only two NFL cheerleaders in their 40s.

AP Photo/Bill Haber

Lewis was also the oldest to ever audition for the Saintsations, Lesslee Fitzmorris, director of the squad told the Associated Press. Fitzmorris said the judges didn't know Lewis' age until after she had made it through three rounds of cuts.

"I know that she will inspire others to overcome adversity, never give up and send the message to go for your dreams and anything is possible," said Fitzmorris.

Lewis said that her passion for dancing and her will to make the most of each day motivated her to fulfill one of her lifelong dreams of becoming an NFL cheerleader.

AP Photo/Bill Haber

"Today is the day, not tomorrow," said Lewis. "Wear your best shoes. Don't save that bottle of wine. Why are you hoarding that from yourself? … I know there is no cure for (my kidney disease,) and I know that I will be on dialysis and in need of a transplant, but I could be killed in a car wreck tomorrow. … I think too many times we wait too late to start on our bucket lists. Start it while you feel good and can enjoy it."


Lewis said she wanted to redefine what a 40-year-old woman could or could not do.

AP Photo/Bill Haber

Kriste Lewis with her sons Jake, 14, and Rob, 11, and her Mother Vassie Owens, at the NFL football team's training facility in Metairie, La.

The other NFL cheerleader in her 40s is 45-year-old Laura Vikmanis who has been with the Cincinnati Bengals dance team, the Ben-Gals, for five years.

She will dance with the Saintsations during the New Orleans Saints' first exhibition game of the season at the Superdome on August 15.

AP Photo/Bill Haber

She had to get her doctor's permission to join the cheerleading squad.

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at

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