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Flowery Branch girl with cerebral palsy finds outlet in cheerleading
Junior Falcons foot expenses for 8-year-old
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Junior Falcons cheerleaders surround Britlyn Caruso, 8, for a photo during a game Sept. 10. Although Britlyn suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy and isn't able to perform cheers along with the others, Britlyn's teammates are very supportive of her being a part of their team. - photo by Erin O. Smith

“She just lights up my day,” family friend and Britlyn’s cheerleading coach Reba Smith said.

Britlyn suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy, but the 8-year-old is able to live a somewhat normal life thanks to cannabis oil.

“Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do things like cheerleading,” Britlyn’s mom Sarah Caruso said. Before she was given the oil, Britlyn’s seizures were preventing her from even trying to do activities, and the pharmaceutical drugs she was given to stop the seizures made her too lethargic.

Britlyn has been seizure free since February.

“We couldn’t have asked for more,” Flowery Branch resident Caruso said.

A teacher at Martin Technology Academy, where Britlyn goes to school, was the one who suggested cheerleading.

Caruso said Britlyn has always been a fan of football, since a family friend was a part of the Atlanta Falcons team. Whenever their “Uncle Pete” was on screen, the family would tell Britlyn and she would light up.

“She was always so excited about Uncle Pete, so now we just say Uncle Pete and she’s excited,” Caruso said. “She also loves watching the other (cheerleaders).”

When Caruso thought about the offer, the first thing that came to mind was the money that would go into the costs of cheerleading.

“It’s just a lot of money,” Caruso said. When she reached out to the Junior Falcons Football club, they told her just to sign the registration forms and they would take care of the rest.

“She’s on a full scholarship,” Britlyn’s mom said.

When Smith was approached about accepting Britlyn onto the squad, she didn’t think twice about it.

“I don’t see (the condition) as keeping them away from sports,” she said.

Coming out to the games poses an inconvenience due to the loud noises that sometimes irritate Britlyn, but the Carusos still come to every game they can.

“Her hearing is heightened,” Caruso said. So sometimes they are unable to stay for the entire game but Caruso said they “do the best (they) can” and stay as long as they can.

Life at home isn’t quiet, though, since Britlyn has four siblings. Britlyn’s father, Anthony Caruso, is a Hall County firefighter. In fact, Caruso’s 16-year-old daughter was also a cheerleader for the same squad growing up and had Smith as her coach.

“I’ve known the family for years,” Smith said. “I just love the whole family.”

At the first game, a man from the opposing team came over to their side of the bleachers. He was in tears, Caruso said, and told them he was so happy to see Britlyn on the sidelines.

“It just shows that we are accepted,” Caruso said. Sometimes she feels like the community doesn’t always accept her and her daughter.

“We are trying to pave the way for acceptance, and she’s the one to do it,” she said.

Since Britlyn is nonverbal, she can’t actually cheer with the group, but makes hand motions and noises.

“The cognitive side is still there, she knows what’s going on,” Caruso said.

“Every time I see her cheering on in her own little way, it just melts my heart,” Smith said.

Smith’s daughter, 7-year-old Sydney Smith, is on the same team as Britlyn, and the two are close friends. During the games, Sydney will check on Britlyn to make sure she’s OK or give her a few taps on the shoulder.

“All the girls on the team just love on her,” said Smith, who has coached cheerleading for the past 14 years. “She’s an inspiration to all of the girls.”

The team has 13 girls altogether, with three junior coaches and two assistant coaches.