KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When the Western Michigan University Broncos football team took the field in January 2017 for the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Brianna Bolinger ran out there with them. She was a feature twirler for WMU and that day she performed in front of thousands of fans at AT&T Stadium.
She did flips and high kicks while twirling her batons. And, she didn’t care if people saw her scars.
“I used my identity as the twirler to kind of overcome my identity as being a burn survivor,” Bolinger said during an interview with FOX 17. “Little did I know that twirling would help me rediscover my identity as a burn survivor and then that would eventually overtake the twirling.”
Bolinger said she was burned in a farming accident on her family’s farm in Indiana when she was just three years old. She doesn’t remember much from that time other than waking up in the hospital days later.
“I wrapped up most of my surgeries by the time I was a second grader,” Bolinger said. “Then from there I just lived my life.”
Bolinger said her parents raised her to be a “typical kid," putting her in dance and baton classes when she was just four years old. That’s when she learned how to twirl and immediately loved it. She performed in parades and grew up to become a competitive twirler in high school.
“I used twirling as a therapy to continue to stretch my skin and to feel more comfortable in my own body, which really helped,” she said. “In terms of the emotional side, I’d say that’s an everyday thing that you kind of have to work through.”
What helped Bolinger get through the hard times was her faith, which she discovered in high school she said. It was also during that time that she became a competitive twirler, getting so good that she auditioned to become a feature twirler when she arrived at WMU in 2016 for college.
Bolinger got the job and has been having fun ever since, she said.
“From my first day of band camp to my last performance in Waldo Stadium about a month ago it’s been this wide range of incredible football games [and] traveling experiences,” Bolinger said.
And she’s got one more football game left. The Broncos are scheduled to take on Western Kentucky in the First Responder Bowl on Monday December 30. When the football team storms on the field, Bolinger will be there twirling on the sidelines and showing off her scars.
When fans see Bolinger, she hopes they'll be inspired by her confidence, she said.
“It’s just typically me living my everyday life telling the world that it’s OK that you’re a little bit different,” Bolinger said. “And that you should go out, live your life, do these incredible things and not hide from it.”