SALT LAKE CITY — At a University of Utah football game, there is so much to take in: the game, the fans, the excitement. But for one high-flying, fearless Utah cheerleader, it’s all shadows.
Savanah Vigil is legally blind and relies on her other senses when cheering at the University of Utah.
“I don’t really use my eyes to cheer at all,” she said. “I was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease, which is in the retina of my eye, so I have no correction with glasses or contacts. ... I go with touch, and my body just remembers where to go. I have great teammates that lead me around to help me get in line, but I just go off body motion.”
The university has a great support system in place to help Vigil.
“The team really embraces her,” coach Stephanie Baxter said. “The guys will say, ‘OK, who has Savy?’ It’s awesome. They take care of her.”
“She just brings an incredible spirit to our team,” team captain Jared Heldt said. “Just positivity.”
“I just think she is the greatest,” cheerleader Haley Skinner said. “You will not meet a kinder person.”
For this young athlete, though, it wasn’t always that way. As a young girl at Bingham High School, Vigil was usually found hiding out in the parking lot because she literally couldn’t see her friends.
“I never could find them at lunch to go sit with them, so I would just sit there, hopefully waiting for someone to walk up to me,” Savanah said. “It was hard.”
So she took matters into her own hands.
“No one deserves to feel like this,” she said. “I walked into the principal’s office and was like, ‘Is there anyone who is alone? Because I will sit with them and be their friend.'”
Vigil's actions lead to the formation of the Golden Gate Initiative, a pro-social club encouraging students to reach out to each other. It has now spread to multiple schools and has more than 5,000 members.
Vigil stays active with the club, speaking to PTA and student groups around Utah. Now she’s continuing to show that spirit of support at the U.
“She’s becoming a huge role model in the community,” coach Stephanie said. “That’s cool to see because I think everyone needs someone to look up to.”
“Nobody deserves to be alone in this world,” Vigil said. “Everyone deserves to be noticed, and an act of kindness can change someone’s whole year or even life."