Time To Say Goodbye

The first lady of the UEL Sirens bids farewell to her club. Don McDermott interviews Mary Carr for Rising East.

Mary Carr has done it all at the University of East London.

She was president of the UEL Sirens for two years, taking them from a ‘nothing club’ to a force to be reckoned with on the British uni competitive cheerleading circuit. She’s received a Service to Sport award from UEL. And for the past year, she has been working tirelessly as Vice-President of the School of Arts and Digital Industries.

But it is perhaps her work with the Sirens for which she will be remembered the most, as she prepares to leave club and university behind her with graduation nearing.

Quick rise

Cheerleading at UEL has a long history, although the Sirens label is relatively new. The club was formerly known as the Panthers, a club whose aims were uncertain and which was described by Carr, in a 2015 Rising East interview, as a “cheer-related exercise class.”

But Carr was determined to change all that. With an influx of new club members at the 2014 Freshers’ Fair supplying her with the needed material, Carr set about changing the club into the Sirens – and into something no one had expected.

The Sirens began training in earnest and in early 2015, they competed in one of the most prestigious cheerleading competitions in the UK, the ICC Nationals, and placed a surprising fourth. For this achievement, Carr was awarded her Service to Sport award and UEL named the Sirens as their most improved club.

Fighting on—and upwards

But keeping up the success has not been easy. Carr admitted that over the past three years, there have been ‘literally about eight times’ that she’s been tempted to walk out – but something kept her from stepping away.

“I’m not a quitter, although I probably need both hands to count the amount of times I’ve said ‘I’m going to quit,’” Carr said. “Through the year it is hard to keep going, when things are going wrong and we’re nowhere near where we need to be, and it would be easier to say ‘we’ll give it a miss this year.’

“But then I remember the feeling I get when I look at the team taking photos with the trophy, posting about how proud they are of themselves on social media and their beaming smiles when they come off the mat and it really makes it all worth it for me. There’s no such thing as a selfless good deed right? I genuinely just like the warm feeling I get from helping someone realise their potential.”

The club certainly has realized its potential under Carr’s leadership. After bursting onto the scene in 2015, the Sirens have continued to post results at national competitions. In their debut at the 2016 Legacy Uni Nationals, the Sirens placed ninth – but just last weekend, the Sirens returned to the competition and finished in a stunning second place.

Their 2016 performance at the ICC Nationals, while resulting in fourth place again, carried with it an important achievement – zero deductions. The judges could find no faults with the Sirens flawless routine, and the UEL club was only beaten by three other clubs because those sides had performed more complex routines. Carr named the ‘no deduction’ achievement as one of her favourite moments with the Sirens.

But again, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

“Every year there has been different struggles,” Carr said. “First year it was the whole unknown aspect of it, second year the push to do two competitions in one weekend and this year my own personal struggle was fitting this in along with the responsibilities of being vice president.”

The effect of having two competitions in such a short timeframe made its impact felt again this year, as the Sirens finished 13th in the ICC Nationals last week, right after their runner-up performance in the Legacy Uni competition.

Ups and downs

For Carr, her time with the Sirens has brought personal peaks and troughs. Carr said that while achieving zero deductions, meeting one of her best friends and receiving awards from UEL were all wonderful moments, her best memory is somewhat difficult to describe.

Carr went on to explain, “What makes me happiest when I look back and think of cheer is almost like a montage of people’s faces, either really happy because they’ve done something they’ve been struggling with for weeks, or stood with the trophy beaming away.”

It’s the thought of those smiling faces that helps Carr look past her hardest time with the Sirens, which occurred this past year. Carr had stepped down as president after two years and had indicated that she would not be competing during the 2016-17 season. In the end, she couldn’t keep away from the club, but Carr, who had given so much to the Sirens, found that she had given just about all she could.

“My biggest low was this year, and my last weekend competing I was probably at the peak of what I was able to give the team. It really felt like scraping up the little that was left,” Carr revealed. “It was hard to push myself through this last little bit, for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go into; but I wouldn’t change it even though it was my lowest point because for others it may be their highest.”

‘We can’t always be Sirens’

Carr’s emphasis on club success and team spirit is clear, and her friendships are something that she will always have with her. Carr drew special attention to current club president Dan Holmes, paying tribute to him not just as a friend, but as someone who has been ‘an absolute rock’ for her.

Carr said, “I think the best friendship I have made throughout this experience is Dan, from meeting this fresh 18-year-old on the other side of the freshers’ fair table to seeing him this weekend be such a strong young man and leader.

“As much as I can say I started and put in the foundations of the team, I could not have done it without his help. There was an element of worry this year for me about letting go, but I knew that Dan was the best person to take it on.

“I was there this year to help him but only because I didn’t want the pressure I had over the two years to be placed on him, and truth be told he didn’t need me as much as I thought, and it was more me not wanting to take the training wheels off.”

But the time has now come, the competitions are all over and Carr is finally letting go of the team she shaped into one of UEL’s brightest clubs. But although she’s saying goodbye, Carr insisted she will always be a part of the Sirens.

“They’re my family in a way,” she said. “I’ve met so many people I wouldn’t have met without being part of this team and learnt so many things because of them. If it wasn’t for this team I would have never met half my closest friends.

“I get to take the friendships I’ve made with me and that’s so much more than a trophy, that’s the real reward. We can’t always be Sirens—but we can always be friends.”