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Where Are They Now? Former Dancer Kristen Purnell Makes NFL Debut

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Northern Arizona University has a long history of student-athletes advancing to careers in the National Football League both as players and coaches. But on September 7 at the University of Phoenix Stadium, former NAU dancer Kristen Purnell recorded a first with her appearance as a member of the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders squad.

Purnell, a native of Aspen, Colo., was a member of the NAU dance team for three years, serving as the coach of the team for the final two seasons. She led the team to a fourth-place finish at the 2008 Universal Dance Association College Dance Team National Championships at Walt Disney World in the Division I Hip Hop category. The team competed against 24 other Division I schools, making the top 11 teams by advancing to finals. The fourth-place finish was the best performance by the squad in school history after placing fifth in 2007.

“I loved being able to be at all the sporting events and games and supporting NAU athletics,” said Purnell of her time in Flagstaff. “I think that was a big part about being on the dance team. The support we got back from the other athletes was really important. The fact they supported us when we went to our competition and wished us well was really exciting.”

Prior to NAU, she had over 11 years of training in ballet and jazz with the Aspen (Colorado) Ballet Company and School and she had also studied jazz, hip hop and lyrical dance at the Aspen Dance Progression where she was also a dance teacher for three years. She has continued as a guest teacher and choreographer. After graduating in May with honors from NAU with a dual degree in advertising and public relations and a minor in sociology, Purnell wanted to continue her dancing career.

“I knew after college I wanted to go out for a professional team,” said Purnell. “The Cardinals have a great reputation and are a good team.”

She advanced through a week-long tryout process in April that started with more than 150 girls vying for one of 28 spots on the team. Surviving rounds of cuts that included routine performances for the judging panel and a business interview, Purnell was selected for the 2008 squad. She was officially notified when the team was announced on the Cardinals’ website.

“It was amazing and overwhelming to find out I made the team,” said Purnell.

She made her first official appearance last month at the Cardinals season opener against the Miami Dolphins, participating in pregame activities and performing during the course of the game.

In addition to her game day activities, Purnell enjoys the opportunity to represent the team in the Phoenix community. She developed her excitement for community work while on the Mountain campus.

“We are only on the field for 10 games during the year,” said Purnell, who started in ballet at the age of four in Colorado. “Being a part of the Cardinals organization we do a lot of charity events and promote the organization. It means a lot. Starting out at NAU we did events like the Toys for Tots and the Climb for Cancer. So that was very important to me to carry that on in the Phoenix community.”

While her career with the Cardinals has included just one game, Purnell hopes to one day lead her own NFL team. She has a great mentor in Heather Karburg, who directed the NAU dance team for three years and now serves as the director of the Cardinals Cheerleaders.

“I knew Heather had started at NAU,” said Purnell. “My aspiration would be to someday lead an NFL team. She inspired me to want to try out. She had a great reputation at NAU and I know she has done very well. To be able to be part of her team was a dream come true.”

Current NAU Cheer and Dance Director Kevin Gemoets is proud of her accomplishment.

“It shows the quality of the program we have at NAU,” said Gemoets. “We expect a lot from the cheerleaders and dancers as far as skills and professionalism.”

Purnell also hopes to pass on her passion.

“I would like to open my own dance studio and be able to teach young girls and transfer my love for dance onto the next generation,” said Purnell. “That would be exciting.”

By Steven Shaff, NAU Media Relations

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