It’s been almost two months since Cheer debuted on Netflix, and, honestly, we’re still not over it. The six-episode docuseries, which follows Navarro College’s junior cheerleading team as they prepare to compete in the 2019 national championships in Daytona Beach, Florida, had us instantly hooked—not only because of the incredible athleticism showcased by the team members but also because of their inspirational and gripping backstories.
One of those emotional stories belonged to Morgan Simianer, the 22-year-old flyer from a small town in Wyoming who was largely abandoned by her family to live alone in a trailer while in high school. She won the hearts of viewers (including celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Gabrielle Union and Chrissy Teigen) in part because of her heartbreaking journey but also because of her drive, her sweet nature and her emotional (and physical!) strength and resilience.
FLARE caught up with Simianer, who is currently back at Navarro and prepping for Daytona, to find out more about her life post-Cheer, her decision to share her childhood story with the world and her bond with Navarro cheer coach Monica Aldama.
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I'm still in shock!!!! Thank you for all the love and unconditional support. I couldn’t have made it this far without any of you. This experience has been amazing and I wouldn’t want change it for the world. Also I want to apologize for not being able to read everyone's messages, but just know that you all mean so much to me. I love y'all ❤️ #netflixcheer #rebel
She’s still getting used to her newfound fame
Simianer’s life has changed dramatically, to say the least, since Cheer aired on Netflix. She has hit 1.2 million followers on Instagram, appeared on Ellen and Good Morning America and starred in a commercial for Buick. Coming from a small town, she says, this newfound fame has been an adjustment. “It’s very different,” she tells FLARE. “The fact that people know me wherever I go and stop me on the streets and in restaurants and stuff…it’s absolutely crazy.”
However, that’s not to say that the cheerleader isn’t grateful for the opportunities the show has given her. “I never in a million years would have imagined my life being where it is now, and I’m just super thankful for all the opportunities and all the support and love that I’ve gotten,” she says.
And despite being famous and adored by fans and celebrities (including Kendall Jenner, whom she met on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, an experience that she says has been her favourite so far), she still feels like she’s the same small-town girl from Wyoming. “I still think of myself as the same person, and I’ll never forget where I came from,” she says.
And she found it “so weird” to see herself on TV
When Cheer hit Netflix, Simianer binge-watched the entire thing in one night, starting at 2 a.m. and finishing around 8 a.m. that morning.
At first, she found the entire thing bizarre. “It was so weird…. When you hear your voice, you’re like, ‘Oh, I really sound like that?’ or I’d say, ‘Morgan, why did you look so raggedy? No, girl, that was bad,” she says with a laugh. “But in the end, it’s me, it’s who I am. I roll out of bed every day, don’t wear makeup, don’t brush my hair. That’s just the reality of it, so what you see is what you get.”
“But being able to see that whole year being documented was absolutely crazy,” she continues. “Literally reliving every single moment—it brought back the emotions and the energy… I could feel my heart beating.”
She was hesitant to share her childhood story with the world but is ultimately thankful she did
Though Simianer spoke so openly about her rough upbringing, she was initially on the fence about sharing such personal information with a wide audience. “At first I was very hesitant if I should share [my story] because, for me, obviously it’s hard to talk about my past,” she says. “But I just felt I needed to say something about it. And, honestly, I’m so glad I did because the amount of people I have impacted and people that have similar stories and can relate to me has been so crazy. I’m so glad that I shared it. Although I was hesitant at first, now I’m like, thank goodness I did.”
Simianer says her past has taught her not to take any opportunity for granted, especially cheerleading for Navarro. “There are not a lot of people that get to do sports in college or get scholarships to do sports, so finishing school is very important to me,” she explains. “Yes, I am granted the opportunity to be paid to cheer and that pays for my school, so I really just don’t take it for granted and work super hard because nothing in life comes easy.”
She has also learned to not let her past define her but instead to learn and grow from her experiences. “I’ve learned who I want to be as a person and the things I don’t want to do with my life,” she says. As for that person she would like to be? “A happy individual who is very helpful to other people.”
Yes, her relationship with Monica is as special as it appeared on-screen
Fans of Cheer know that Navarro College’s well-loved head coach, Monica Aldama, stands by her team. Despite her tough-as-nails approach, she is adored by her team members because of her willingness to support them both on and off the mat.
Simianer herself is fiercely loyal to Monica, whom she considers her “second mom,” even saying, “I’d do anything for that woman” in the series.
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Happy Birthday to the one and only QUEEN. 👑 You make me stronger with each passing day. You make me a better person in just about every way. You inspire me to do my best. You always put my skills to the test. I really try to make you smile. I can’t wait for you to get another title! I love you. I hope your day is just as amazing as you are.❤️🐾
“I really look up to her,” Simianer tells FLARE. “The amount that she’s done for so many people in the past and how she puts other people before herself really just shows that she’s an incredible person.”
“I think [our bond resonated with viewers] because of how open-armed she is and how caring she is for her athletes,” she continues. “I didn’t really have that mother figure growing up, and I think that stuck with people.”
And their bond, naturally, is still going strong. “I know that even if she’s having a bad day, I can give her a crazy look or crack a joke and I’ll see this little smirk on her face, and I’m like, ‘Yup, there it is. It’s a good day,’” says Simianer.
And, rest assured, she knows her body and its limits
Eleven days before Daytona 2019, Simianer went to the emergency room because of bruised ribs that may have been fractured. Despite being told by doctors that more stress on her ribs could damage her organs or kill her, she returned to practice (sans muscle relaxants because they would prevent her from participating) and ultimately went on to compete at Daytona. To some, Simianer’s decision seemed problematic, but the athlete insists she knows her body and how far to push it.
“I know my body and when it tells me ‘This is OK’ and ‘This is not OK,’” she says. “Obviously if I was in a position where I was that injured, I would take it seriously. My second year at Navarro, I had ankle surgery. I took that seriously because it was like, yeah, I’m kind of in a cast and I can’t do much.”
But even then, her love of cheer made her want to continue practicing. “Even when I got my boot, I was trying to do stunts, and Monica was like, ‘Get down! Stop doing that!’ and I was like, ‘I miss it!’”
And despite her gruelling schedule, Simianer takes the time to engage in her own forms of self-care. “Talking with my friends, hanging out with them because they’re basically my family, sleeping…I love sleeping,” she says of her self-care routine. “And calligraphy. I like calligraphy. It’s my thing.”