Mikayla Raleigh ‘17 Strikes Balance as First-Year Student Athlete

Being both a Division I athlete and a Park Scholar could be daunting for a freshman, but not for varsity cheerleader Mikayla Raleigh ’17. A young master of the art of time management, Raleigh is making the most of her collegiate experience.

“While some people may view both opportunities as missing out on other parts of the ‘college experience,’ I see both of them as incredible opportunities to do things that most people don’t even get to think about,” Raleigh said. “For me, the tradeoff is totally worth it. I really think that a lot of time management is about perspective. I truly appreciate all the activities I am able to do, so instead of complaining about being too busy, I choose to be excited that I have so many ways to fill my time.”

Raleigh values having access to two highly supportive communities within NC State.

“While Park is an absolutely incredible support system, athletics is, too,” she said. “It’s like I have two totally different groups of people, both trying their best to help me succeed. It’s pretty crazy when I think about it, and I’m very appreciative of all the ‘extra’ help I get, such as early course registration and excellent mentors and networking opportunities through Park.”

She also enjoys being able to eat at Case Dining Hall, which caters to varsity athletes’ nutritional needs to ensure they stay in excellent shape and perform at their maximum potential.

Raleigh has always had a love of athletics. Growing up, she participated in gymnastics, which eventually led to cheerleading. She began her cheerleading career at the age of 8 at Impact Athletics, moved to Premier Clayton Shockers for two years, and then spent six years with Cheer Extreme All-Stars.

Kelly Smith, a member of the Park Scholarships Class of 2006, was Raleigh’s coach at Cheer Extreme.

“Mikayla is the hardest working athlete I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “She worked her way tirelessly from level three to center flyer on my most elite World’s team.”

During her time at Cheer Extreme, Raleigh launched an endeavor that evolved into something she could not have imagined.

“I started an at-home personal training business called Operation BEAST: Become an Extreme Athlete, Start Training,” she said. “It is funny because it actually started as a poster board on our door for my little brother to put stickers on when he worked out or didn’t eat sweets. Basically, I was just trying to think of a fun, goal-oriented way for him to work out and be healthier.”

She took this idea with her to the gym where she hosted free conditioning and stretching classes to the other athletes at Cheer Extreme. She had a reputation for being a hardworking athlete, and people responded to this.

“People started giving me donations for the class and asking me if I could spend more one-on-one time with their kids,” Raleigh said. “I realized that this was a fantastic business opportunity, so I stopped doing the big classes and moved to private lessons at the home gym in our basement. I had around thirteen clients, ages 6-13, who would come on a weekly basis for hour-long lessons. I tried to get all of them in the habit of writing down their workouts to teach them the self-discipline needed to train on their own.”

Raleigh still conducts lessons when she has time to go home.

Raleigh heard about the Park Scholarships program during middle school when a friend’s elder sibling received the award. As she progressed through high school, she realized her strengths and experiences seemed to fit the four pillars of the Park program: scholarship, leadership, service, and character. After visiting NC State’s campus, Raleigh knew it was the school for her, and receiving the Park Scholarship would be “icing on the cake.” When Raleigh got a phone call notifying her that she had been selected to receive the Park, she was ecstatic.

“I was actually taking a test in my Physics class when my teacher told me that ‘Valerie Schwartz from the Park office called for you,’” she said. “I knew it was probably good news, but I also knew that I had to finish my test before I called her back or else I would never be able to concentrate. I think I stared at one problem for about ten minutes before I was finally able to calm myself down a little, finish, and then call her back. I immediately called my parents and my cheer coach, Kelly Smith. At first no one answered, so then I texted everyone and after that my phone kind of blew up.”

After receiving the news, Raleigh coincidentally saw her brother in the hallway of their high school.

“He knew right away that I got the Park even before I said anything to him, so I think I must have looked unusually happy,” Raleigh said. “I didn’t stop smiling for a few weeks after that; it would hit me at random times just what an incredible opportunity I was receiving. It was definitely surreal.”

Majoring in business administration and minoring in Spanish and sport science, Raleigh hopes to one day open her own performance academy for athletic training. As she did on a small scale with Operation BEAST, Raleigh wants to help athletes succeed mentally and physically within their training regimes.

“It would be a good combination of entrepreneurship and sports. I know I would miss athletics too much if I had to give it up completely,” she said.

Story by Kyleigh Garrison