Kriste Lewis is headed to the Pro Bowl.
The Hattiesburg woman, who has been a Saintsation for three years, was named to the cheerleader Pro Bowl roster to represent the New Orleans cheerleading squad.
The game is Jan. 29 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
“It’s an exciting time to have her represent us on the Coast,” said her longtime friend Jason Green. “And it’s an honor for her to represent South Mississippi and Moss Point.”
She is the daughter of Vassie and Robert Owens, formerly of Escatawpa.
Lewis said she was totally surprised by the announcement, made at the Saints-Rams game on Sunday.
Making the announcement
“As a mother, I’m usually the one giving the surprises,” she said. “It’s hard as a mother and a woman to get surprised. But this was just a beautiful surprise. It really has warmed my heart.”
She said she was confused about why the Saints were heading out to the field when they did. She thought at first that one of her teammates was being surprised with an engagement.
“They called my name and one of my teammates said, ‘Kriste, that’s you!’ I said for what? She said, ‘the Pro Bowl!’”
She said, traditionally, the Saintsations choose a fourth-year member to represent the Saints. The Saintsations have a four-year cap on cheerleaders’ tenure with the team. To determine who is selected, members, the team’s directors and the Saints all have a say and the women’s community service work also factors into the decision.
“It wasn’t even on my mind at all,” she said. “They take all of that into account to choose the female who best represents the team and what the team embodies.”
Lewis said sons Jake, 17, and Rob, 13, as well as her husband Tim were there to see her selection announced.
“Jake asked me ‘Do you know what the Pro Bowl is?’” Lewis said. “‘The Pro Bowl is the best of the best and you’re going. I’m so proud of you.’”
Her family plans to travel with her to Orlando and hit Disney World while she is in rehearsals and making appearances.
“It was the big talk at dinner last night,” Lewis said. “They’re already making plans.”
Lewis said it’s ironic she will be going to Orlando because as a “huge Mickey Mouse fan” she was talking to her family just recently about wanting to return to Disney World.
Being a Saintsation
Lewis, a fitness and dance instructor, decided that for her 40th birthday, she was going to audition for the Saints squad.
“My husband has been so supportive from Day 1,” Lewis said.
Not only did she make it, but did it as one of only two women in their 40s to cheer for an NFL team.
Lewis began as a cheerleader at Moss Point High School. After graduation in 1992, she went on to Livingston University, where she represented her school at the Miss Alabama pageant.
A one-time school teacher, Lewis began working as a fitness instructor and dance teacher after she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, which runs in her family.
She was told that staying active and fit would prolong her kidney function.
The disease eventually will lead to dialysis treatments and the need for a kidney transplant, according to her Saintsations biography. Several family members have died of the disease, and her mother has already undergone dialysis and just celebrated 10 years post kidney transplant.
“In my family, the onset is usually about the age of 50 and I’m 43,” she said. “The doctor released me to do this. I feel good right now, but that’s part of the reason I stay active and eat healthy.
“I’m trying to live every day to the fullest. None of us are promised tomorrow. I don’t want to waste anything.”