NEW YORK – A cheerleader who continued to cheer for her team from a gurney despite tumbling 15 feet onto her head said Wednesday she was worried the accident would distract from the basketball game.
"My biggest concern was that I didn't want my squad to be distracted — so that they could continue cheering on the team — and I didn't want my team to be distracted from winning the game," Kristi Yamaoka, 18, told NBC's "Today" show.
Yamaoka, a Southern Illinois University sophomore from Springfield, Ill., suffered a concussion, a spinal fracture and a bruised lung when she lost her balance atop a human pyramid during a time-out in Sunday's game against Bradley.
She drew national attention as she was wheeled off the court. When the pep band fired up the school's fight song "Go Southern Go," Yamaoka gave a two-handed thumbs up from the gurney, then moved her arms — the only things not strapped down — in time to the music and cheered.
"I'm still a cheerleader — on a stretcher or not," Yamaoka told the "Today" show while wearing a neck brace and her cheerleading uniform. "So as soon as I heard that fight song, I knew my job and just started to do my thing."
Following Yamaoka's accident, the Missouri Valley Conference barred certain cheerleading stunts during this week's women's basketball tournament. Cheerleaders may not be launched or tossed and may not take part in formations higher than two levels during the tournament.