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When Vanessa Wahl started as a cheerleader for the Indianapolis Colts four seasons ago, she wrote down one thing in her journal every single day: to be a Pro Bowl cheerleader. 

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“I wanted to be the Pro Bowl cheerleader for all it encompasses,” Wahl said. “Being the ultimate cheerleader for everyone.” 

After a challenging year, Wahl lost her father, Jason Mueller, to stage II colon cancer in July 2021. So, the moment that Wahl was alerted of the news of being a Pro Bowl cheerleader was even more magical than the announcement itself.

The clip, which went viral on December 21 on ESPNW’s instagram, showed Wahl, a random “season ticket holder”, and Blue, the Colts’ mascot. The fans in the stadium quickly learn that the season ticket holder was an actor, and the gift was for Wahl. Up on the video board was a clip of her mother, Hannah, announcing how much dance and cheerleading has been a big part of her daughter’s life, how her father was a lifelong Colt’s fan, and ultimately giving her the news that she was the Colts’ 2022 Pro Bowl cheerleader.

“At first I thought my boyfriend was proposing,” Wahl said. “Then I saw my mom on the screen and it started to sink in that something really big must be happening. Then she mentioned my dad and all the emotions spilled out of me.”

Mueller grew up as a Colts fan from his grandfather Norm, who was the mailman for the Colts complex. Mueller spent his childhood years visiting the stadium, meeting the players, the chief operating officer, and even Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts.

“[Irsay and his family] actually sent flowers for his funeral,” Wahl said.

Mueller and Wahl’s mother went to high school together before going their separate ways — marrying other people and having two different families. By some stroke of luck, Mueller became Wahl’s fifth grade teacher when she was a student at Walnut Grove Elementary school in Bargersville, IN.

“He was immediately my favorite teacher,” Wahl said. “I even came back the next year when I was in sixth grade to bring him brownies for his birthday, and he still has a powerpoint that I made him for his birthday when I was in his class.”

But when Wahl’s parents decided to split up right before she was in high school, Mueller came back into the picture.

It’s just like any other Hollywood rom-com movie — Wahl’s mother was the coach of the dance team when Wahl was in high school, and Mueller did play-by-play for the football and basketball teams. Wahl’s mother would bring Mueller the music for their routines. The two would chat, then eventually date, get married the following summer, and the rest is history

“He is my stepdad, but we are very close. We don’t believe in the word ‘step’” Wahl said.

Wahl mentioned they were even going to go through the adoption process, but it ultimately didn’t pan out. Wahl also noted Mueller was the first man in her life that encouraged her, supported her, and loved her.

“Family doesn’t have to be by blood,” Wahl continued. “If I were to ever redo my life, I would choose him as my dad every single day.”

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Wahl is going on her fifth season as a Colts cheerleader and her second as a co-captain, and no one has supported her journey more than her father. Not only was Mueller thrilled to hear that Wahl was going to try out to be a Colts cheerleader, but he showed up to every corporate and community event she was a part of, season ticket holder events, and would even give Wahl and her teammates gifts and other goodies.

“One time he gave us all vouchers to try cryotherapy and massages,” Wahl said.

Mueller wasn’t only supportive of Wahl though — he supported every Colts cheerleader, claiming the title of ultimate cheer dad.

“I have so many memories with him over the years,” Wahl said, adding that her favorites happened on fathers day.

During her second season as a cheerleader, Wahl and a few teammates were asked to talk about their dads. That was when Wahl volunteered to talk about Mueller and her blended family.

“I see this camera come into play from the corner, the door opens and I hear my dad’s big, booming voice behind me, and I immediately break down,” Wahl said.

Another memory was when the cheerleaders did a video of the dads of the girls on the team doing their makeup.

“It was quite the look,” Wahl laughed. “Definitely not something I would wear to game days or appearances.”

Because of his ongoing support of the cheer team, for Father’s Day in 2021, the whole team did a tribute to Mueller, as they anticipated it would be the last paternal holiday for him to enjoy.

Three years earlier, Mueller’s condition started to decline after he went in for a procedure and left with chronic pancreatitis. Half of his pancreas died off and was removed, and after two bouts of sepsis and many other health complications, Wahl and her family found out he had colon cancer in January 2021.

The cancer had eaten away at his colon, part of his stomach, and some other parts of his body, all of which had to be removed. The doctors unfortunately could not get all of the cancer and Mueller lost the battle later that year in July.

It was a devastating blow to all of Wahl’s family, but her cheerleading family, the Colts, and all of Colts Nation were there to support her in any way that they could.

“I was not planning on trying out for a fifth season,” Wahl said. “But my coaches sat me down and just said, ‘you are not done. We can just feel it in our bones that you are not done.’”

Wahl’s coach also was able to relate, as she had lost her mother when she was 25, a year younger than Wahl. Through the support system created within her team, Wahl was ready to take on the Colts 2021-22 season, and can now cap it off with a Pro Bowl bid.

Even though Wahl’s father is no longer with her physically, she knows that every time she steps into Lucas Oil Stadium, her father is watching too, especially when she was named to the Pro Bowl.

“I felt my dad with me, in that moment,” Wahl recalled with a smile. “It was so magical and I am so grateful.”

Photo credits: Vanessa Wahl, Instagram