Melissa Puleo Adams: Sixth Time’s a Charm

12 09 2012

Melissa Puleo Adams graces the cover of the September/October 2012 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I design and produce bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America. I met and photographed Melissa for the magazine in May when she was in town visiting her parents, Joe and Lisa. Barbara Kelley, the editor-in-chief of Hearing Loss Magazine, interviewed Melissa this summer. (Cover photo © Cindy Dyer)

Sixth Time’s a Charm

by Barbara Kelley

It’s fall and that means one thing to a lot of people in this country—football! True grit on the gridiron not only stirs passion from spectators, it contributes to a multi-billion dollar sports industry in the United States. According to Plunkett Research®, Ltd., sports, with football at the top, is big business. “Combined, the ‘Big 4’ leagues in America, the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), bring in about $24 billion in revenue during a typical year, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. U.S. sporting equipment sales at retail sporting goods stores are roughly $41 billion yearly, according to U.S. government figures.

A reasonable estimate of the total U.S. sports market would be $400 to $435 billion yearly. However, the sports industry is so complex, including ticket sales, licensed products, sports video games, collectibles, sporting goods, sports-related advertising, endorsement income, stadium naming fees and facilities income, that it’s difficult to put an all-encompassing figure on annual revenue.” (

What About the Cheerleaders?
Yes, cheerleaders are part of this lucrative sports industry. NFL Cheerleading is a professional cheerleading league in the United States. Most of the NFL teams have a cheerleading squad in their franchise. Cheerleaders are a popular attraction that gives a team more coverage/airtime, local support, and increased media image. Think Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders or their rivals, First Ladies of Football, Washington Redskins Cheerleaders.

For the NFL, the Baltimore Colts was the first team in the NFL to have cheerleaders in 1954. These girls were also a part of the historic Baltimore Colts Marching Band. The only NFL teams without cheerleaders are the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The February 2011 meeting of the Packers and Steelers at Super Bowl XLV was the first time a Super Bowl featured no cheerleaders. The Packers do, however, use a collegiate squad from time to time in a limited role to cheer at home games.

Apply Here
I was curious. Besides being able to hear the music and follow the beat, what other qualifications do you need to be an NFL Cheerleader? So, I went online as if I were going to apply to become a “Charger Girl,” the cheerleading squad for NFL’s San Diego Chargers. I got so excited when it said “Be a part of the Hottest Dance Team in the NFL! Charger Girls Audition.” Using my super-sized imagination, I went through the list of requirements to see if, by any slim chance, I could apply.

• You must be at least 18 years old by the date of the preliminary audition. There is no maximum age limit. (Check! Whew, good thing.)

• There are no height or weight requirements. (Check! Oh boy, got lucky again, so far, so good.)

• Team members must have flexible schedules for twice-weekly rehearsals, games and appearances during and prior to the season. (Check! This might be tough but I have some vacation time coming.)

• Team members must attend a mandatory weekend mini-camp. (Check! My husband can hold down the fort.) 

• Team members must have a means of transportation. (Check! I’ll take the family SUV; it’s a little trashed from kids’ cleats, mud, and empty Gatorade bottles, but it’ll work fine.)

Also from the application:

“The Charger Girls uphold a high standard of quality dance performance and community involvement. The Charger organization feels strongly that the cheerleaders should complement the professionalism represented on and off the playing field. During the preliminary audition process, applicants will be judged on dance ability, crowd appeal, showmanship, and individual applications. For finalists, there is an interview process and a final dance audition.”

Highlights of being a Charger Girl:

• Experience the thrill of performing in front of more than 65,000 fans

• Perform at San Diego Chargers home games in Qualcomm Stadium

• Participate in the annual swimsuit calendar photo shoot

• Serve as ambassadors for the Chargers organization as well as the San Diego community

• Bring smiles to underprivileged children

• Have local and national media exposure

• Work with many of the nation’s top choreographers

• Donate time and talent for various charity events

• Make invaluable friendships with fellow teammates

Wow, this was sounding great.

And finally, in big bold letters, the application states:


Okay, deal breaker, count me out. But, now I know that auditioning for this job is not for the faint of heart. I watched some of the auditions on the Internet to learn more about what is behind the women who are brave enough to try. You have to be talented, athletic, outgoing and more. One woman, Kei, came all the way from Japan just to try for this coveted role.

But there is one young woman who stands out among them all—Melissa Puleo Adams. She’s a tenacious, spirited girl, who caught the attention of ABC’s Good Morning America and who was interviewed on the program last year. By the way, Melissa happens to have a hearing loss. Now, she has our attention.

Meet Melissa Puleo Adams
Melissa, (29) was born in Brooklyn, New York, raised in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and now lives in Carlsbad, California. She graduated from James Madison University in Virginia in 2004. Her parents, Joe and Lisa, live in the Washington, D.C., metro area and we met her when she was home to visit. When you ask her dad about his daughter, he says, “Her mom and I would say how proud we are of all Melissa has achieved despite her hearing loss. She is smart, compassionate and determined.”

How did she do it when getting the routine right depends on hearing the music and the numbers being called out? She neither had the roar of the crowd nor the loud music to fuel her. Even the football referee’s whistle was too high-pitched for her to hear. Melissa Puleo Adams talks about the people who helped her along the way and her perseverance to making her dream of being a Charger Girl come true. (Photo courtesy of the Charger Girls)

In Melissa’s Words

Your hearing loss… when was it detected and was it treated?
I was five when my hearing loss was detected by my kindergarten teacher. My teacher notified my mother that she noticed I wouldn’t turn around when called at times. My parents took me to an ENT to get my hearing tested and they discovered that I had a hearing loss in both ears. I was fitted with two behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids at age five.

What about school, the classroom, friends?
I was fortunate to have a pleasant grade school experience due largely in part to a great family support system, and a positive attitude. When I was first fitted with BTE hearing aids, I proudly wore my hair up with confidence, showing them off to all my friends and classmates. My friends all thought my hearing aids were ‘so cool’ and wanted to try them on and get a pair of their own.

However, in high school and college I was shy, maybe embarrassed, about my hearing loss. I no longer told my peers about it and kept my hair down to cover my hearing aids. I always thought what guy would want to date a girl who wears hearing aids? I didn’t know anyone else with a hearing loss. This didn’t affect my positive outlook, although I’m sure having a friend to relate to may have helped during my high school years.

In terms of teachers and school, I still continued to tell the teachers on the first day of class that I needed to sit front and center and that if they turned away from me to face the blackboard then I probably wouldn’t understand what they were saying. I did the same in college and talked to the professors after class if I thought I missed something.

Speaking of college, how did you decide on your major when you had so much interest in dancing?
When I first attended James Madison University, I had an undeclared major and had no idea what I wanted to do. As a freshman, I declared Business as a major because it felt like a suitable, broad option. Though I enjoyed my business classes, the artistic/creative side of me felt ignored. I decided on Media Arts and Design with a concentration in Interactive Digital Media. Classes consisted of graphic design, web design, communications, media, broadcasting and copywriting. This was right up my alley because I’ve always been creative. When I was little, I used to write stories and mini-books complete with pictures. I also loved making up plays and making my little brother, Marc, and our friends perform the parts I created for them in front of family and friends.

Did you take dance lessons as a child? There must be a segue to wanting to become a Charger Girl.
My mom put me in tap and ballet class when I was five (same time frame when my hearing loss was detected). I fell in love with it immediately and knew that I wanted dancing to be a part of my life forever. I have always been an avid exerciser but to prepare for the Charger Girl auditions, I took more dance classes on top of my usual cardio and weight-training routine. Taking dance classes not only helped me brush up on my skills, but also helped train my memory for learning choreography.

When did you start thinking about becoming a Charger Girl?
I’ve always had the dream of becoming a professional dancer when I started dance lessons. When I moved to San Diego from Maryland in 2005, I heard of the San Diego Charger Girl auditions. They have a great reputation of being a fantastic group of women and I wanted to be part of it.

What about your audition?
I first tried out for Charger Girls in 2005. The auditions are always held in March or April. My hearing loss made it more difficult for me because the auditions were in a huge auditorium with an echo. Once I got the dance routine started, I would be totally fine, but the main challenge was starting on the right beat. Sometimes I would use my peripheral vision to look at the girl to the right or left of me to see when to start. It is a vigorous audition process. More than 400 girls audition for a spot on a team of 28. There are preliminary tryouts first, after which they make two cuts. You learn choreography and then you must perform for a panel of judges in groups of three. About 60 girls make it to the final rounds which include a one-on-one interview, a group interview, and a final dance audition. You have to prepare a solo dance to showcase to the final judges as well. It is nerve-wracking but the adrenaline that pumps through you gets you through it!

So, what happened next?
I didn’t make it. I tried out again in 2006. I didn’t make it. Again, in 2007. No, again. I tried again the next two years in 2008, 2009. No and no. That’s five tryouts.

After one rejection, most of us would have moved on.
For five years, after rounds of dance auditions and interviews, I had the same experience. All of us sit together holding hands, eyes closed, hoping to hear our audition number called. It’s an intense moment. The first five times my number was not called, it was tough. I had friends who would make the team and it would be a bittersweet moment. I was thrilled for them but I had to go home, year after year, not as a Charger Girl.

Though it was hard not to make it, and especially not to know why you weren’t picked for the team, I knew this was something I could do well if given the chance. I was not giving up on my dream. Well, all I can say is: Hence, if at first (second, third, forth, and fifth in my case) you don’t succeed, try and try again.

And, in 2010, what happened?
My number was called after my sixth audition! It was one of the most memorable moments in my entire life. I waited six years to hear my number called! I’ll never forget that moment.

Is life as a Charger Girl what you expected?
I was a Charger Girl for two NFL seasons, 2010–11 and 2011–12. I had the most incredible experience and can say it was all that I expected and more. Some of the teammates I had will be my friends for life. The director, Lisa Simmons, is an amazing leader and I’m proud to call her a friend of mine.

Now, what about your hearing loss?
My hearing loss was always accommodated. I couldn’t believe the amount of support I had from my teammates and director. At every practice, girls would repeat things that were said to me. For each dance there would be a girl close by me who would give me a signal (tap on the leg, quietly mouth the count—5, 6, 7, 8—or shake her pom) so that I would know when to start the dance. Most times I couldn’t hear the music when I was on the field so this system ensured that I would never be off beat or lose count. That is why I call my teammates friends. They could have easily looked out for themselves first with little regard for me. I will never forget that. (Family photo © Cindy Dyer)

What are you doing now?
I decided not to audition for the San Diego Charger Girls for another season. The two seasons I had were incredibly good to me, but I have other exciting things planned for the future. I am currently self-employed as a marketing manager, event coordinator, and graphic/web designer. I’ve been dubbed the “Get It Done Expert.”

In June I became certified to teach barre3, a mixture of yoga and pilates, using a ballet barre. It’s a fantastic workout that tones your entire body, and the best part is that almost anyone can do it! Being an instructor poses a new challenge with my hearing loss, but as always I’m up for the challenge.

Future plans?
I have a couple of other business ideas in the works I plan to unleash on the world in the future. I can’t share them quite yet. I also want to have a family down the road, but in the meantime, I am enjoying this stage of my life and embracing any opportunities that arise.

Who or what is the most important to you?
My family—without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I love being active—hiking, Bikram yoga, hanging out at the beach, taking my dog, Drama, for a walk. (Yes, his name really is Drama, named after the Entourage character, Johnny Drama…it suits him.) I cherish my time with my friends. I’ve learned over time to surround yourself with people who make you happy—life’s too short not to. (Photo © Cindy Dyer)

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Honestly, every day is a challenge. Little things such as listening to the radio in the car with the windows down, using the phone, jumping in the pool, aren’t as easy for me as they are for those with normal hearing. It’s all about your attitude. I just stay positive and cherish all the amazing things that I do have in my life, especially my supportive family and friends.

If someone tells you that you can’t do something…
… it makes me want to do it more!”

To find out more about the Charger Girls, go to Melissa Puleo Adams can be reached at

Barbara Kelley is editor-in-chief of Hearing Loss Magazine and deputy executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America. She can be reached at


HLM Cover Feature: Lynn Rousseau

9 05 2011

The May/June 2011 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine (HLM), which I design and produce bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), is hot off the press! This month’s “cover girl” is my dear friend and HLAA member Lynn Rousseau. I first met Lynn in October 2008 in Denver, Colorado, when we both received a Focus on People Award from Oticon, a leading hearing aid manufacturer. Barbara Kelley, Deputy Executive Director of HLAA and editor of Hearing Loss Magazine, secretly nominated me for the award. Oticon flew all the winners (and a guest) to Denver for the ceremony, and I wrote about that amazing experience (thanks again, Barbara!) on my blog here.

Lynn and I hit it off instantly and talked for hours that weekend. She was very funny, sweet and a great listener. Last year I told her that she needed to share her life story with the hearing loss community. She has led quite a colorful and creative life, so I knew she would have great photos to illustrate the article. She didn’t fail me with the visuals—she mailed a big bag of newspaper clippings and photos collected from a lifetime of dancing, performing and modeling. It was hard to decide which ones to use first! I had the pleasure of photographing Lynn for the cover when we met up at the 2010 HLAA Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last June. Lynn confessed that while she didn’t think she was a writer, she would do her best to repeat some of the stories she shared with me when we first met. I enlisted the help of my father, Hershel M. Dyer, as editor (thanks, Dad!). He crafted a beautiful article from Lynn’s notes and stream-of-consciousness prose. You can read more of his work on his blog at

Lynn’s love of dance and performing garnered her several “15 minutes of fame” moments—in her teens she was just one of three girls chosen to perform every Saturday on the Rick Shaw Show and the Saturday Hop Show in Miami. She performed at legendary Miami Beach hotels and her first television show was with Paul Revere & the Raiders, Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Diamond. She also had a small part on the big screen in Smokey and the Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason, had the opportunity to dance with the June Taylor dancers, and was an extra on the movie, Doc Hollywood, with Michael J. Fox.

In this month’s feature article, she shares both the sad and funny moments in her life concerning hearing loss, introduces us to her incredibly supportive family (husband Joel, three children, and eight grandchildren), and reveals her diagnosis of and subsequent recovery from breast cancer in 2008. On this month’s cover I wrote Lynn Rousseau: Fearless, Persistent, Resilient. Lynn is all those things and I’m thrilled that readers will get to know a little more about her colorful life. My father has always told me that I march to the tune of a different drummer. Lynn most certainly does, too, (sometimes literally!) and I am so proud to call her my friend. To read the entire article, click to download the pdf file here: Lynn Rousseau

Hearing Loss Magazine, 2008 recap

18 01 2009

Our first issue in 2009 of the Hearing Loss Magazine (published by the Hearing Loss Association of America) was delivered to member mailboxes about a week ago. Reflecting back on 2008, our focus in the magazine was to include some members of a younger generation that are affected (but thriving despite it) by hearing loss. These cover subjects are in the links below. To view the pdf links, click on the gray-colored link, then on the same link again in the next window. The pdf should begin to download and open automatically. The other links (in red) are direct links to my previous posts.

hlm-2008-jan-cover2January/February 2008: Yew Choong Cheong was our cover subject in an article by Bill Nevin, director of communications for the West Virginia University Foundation. Cheong is a 28-year-old West Virginia University graduate student and one of just four recipients for the 2007 International Young Soloists Awards given by Very Special Arts (VSA arts). The award earned him an invitation to perform at the Kennedy Center, along with a $5,000 scholarship to further pursue his studies in music. All the images for this feature were provided by Greg Ellis, WVU Photographic Service. Read Bill Nevin’s article here: yewchoongcheung.

March/April 2008: Our March/April cover featured HLAA member Mike Royer, his wife Alicia, and friend Sue Cummings in a Walk4Hearing event. Want to learn more about Walk4Hearing? Read a recap on the event written by HLAA past president Anne Pope here: walk4hearing

hlm-2008-march-cover1In this same issue Mike wrote a personal story about growing up with a hearing loss and finally getting a cochlear implant. In June I photographed Mike and his family in my studio (photos posted here and here), and then Mike asked me to photograph their third child, Ashley, coming into the world this past September (see that posting here). What an honor to do so! Read Mike’s article here: mikeroyer

hlm-2008-may-coverMay/June 2008: One of my top most-visited blog posts to date (with 555 total hits!) was our May/June cover girl, Abbie Cranmer. The final cover made its debut here in that posting. I discovered Abbie’s wonderful blog last year and knew we just had to feature her. She came all the way from New Jersey for her photo session in my studio, bringing her cousin from Maryland to serve as my trusty assistant. They were both such fun to photograph. See the results of that photo session here. Abbie has quite a fan base—that post alone garnered 307 visits to date! Check out Abbie’s blog about her cochlear implant journey here and download her first published article:

hlm-2008-july-coverJuly/August 2008:
Our fourth issue in 2008 featured Virginia-native Alexa Vasiliadis, an 18-year-old dancer who wears a hearing aid. I photographed Alexa’s performance in The Nutcracker in December 2007. It was my first time to see a live performance of The Nutcracker. See those photographs here. I photographed Alexa again in the dance studio here and here. I posted our cover shot posted here. A very thoughtful Alexa and her mother, Lynne, sent yummy homemade baklava (Alexa made it using her late grandmother’s recipe) and Panera Bread gifts card to Barbara and me. These “thank you” gifts were unexpected and much appreciated! Read editor Barbara Kelley’s interview with Alexa and see my accompanying photos here: alexafeature

hlm-2008-sept-coverSeptember/October 2008: This issue featured Harvard senior Patrick Holkins, whom I photographed earlier this fall. Click here for an August posting where I asked viewers to vote on which cover photo they preferred. The votes were tallied and the cover that won the most votes is posted here. Patrick interned with HLAA this summer, and with the association’s support, he created and launched HearingLossNation, a non-profit online community designed specifically for hard of hearing individuals between the ages of 18 and 35. Patrick is also the moderator for the online forum. Sign up to participate here. Read Barbara’s feature interview with Patrick, accompanied by my photos, here: patrickfeature1

hlm-2008-nov-cover1November/December 2008:
Our final issue of the year featured Washington Redskins player Reed Doughty. I photographed Reed in August at Redskins Park and that posting, along with photos from the session, can be found here. Barbara’s feature interview with Reed, including some of my photos, can be found here: reedfeature

hlaabdaylogo1ON ANOTHER NOTE: HLAA Convention 2009 will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, June 18-21. Vinton Cerf, Ph.D., vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google and widely known as the “Father of the Internet,” will deliver the Keynote Speech at the Opening Session. Learn more about Convention 2009 on the HLAA website here. HLAA also celebrates its 30th birthday this year! (I designed this fun little birthday logo for the event.)

AND FINALLY: I photographed Brenda Battat (Executive Director) and Nancy Macklin (Director of Events & Operations) of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) in my studio in October. The images below are from their photo sessions.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Cover girl Alexa

24 06 2008

The July/August 2008 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine will feature Alexa Vasiliadis, a high school student and dancer from Virginia. I first blogged about Alexa here after I photographed her in a performance of The Nutcracker. In early May I photographed her at a dance studio and posted those images here and here. Images from both shoots were used in the feature layout of the magazine. Below is the cover and the opening page of the article on Alexa.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Check out these other Hearing Loss Magazine cover subjects:

En pointe

12 05 2008

Early Sunday morning I photographed Alexa again, with the goal of getting a stellar cover image for the July/August issue of Hearing Loss Magazine. I first met Alexa this past December when I photographed her performing in The Nutcracker Ballet (, presented by the Classical Ballet Theatre (

I did get a really great image for the cover, but it will be kept under wraps until its debut in early June. In the interim, I’ll share some of the other images I did this morning. I played around in Photoshop with these two still-life-type shots, using several of Doug Boutwell’s Totally Rad Action Mix actions to get this dreamy sepia effect. What a great way to make a nice photograph more special. I highly recommend these great actions! Check out his revised website here:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Beauty and grace

1 12 2007

I jumped on the opportunity to photograph a production of The Nutcracker this past Saturday night. I was hired to photograph a young dancer, Alexa (shown in the collage below), for my Hearing Loss Magazine. I photographed the entire show, but concentrated on getting shots of her for our magazine. This was the first time I had seen The Nutcracker and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hats off to the Classical Ballet Theatre ( for this beautiful production! Stay tuned for additional photos of other dancers from this troupe. I’ve photographed a play or two before (in my college days), but this is a first to cover a dance performance. It was fast-paced, colorful, and challenging shooting sans flash in a dark theatre with varying light plays and lots of movement!

I googled for details on the history of The Nutcracker Story (ashamed to say I knew little about the story until now), and found this:

The NutCracker Ballet

In 1891, world renowned choreographer Marius Petipa commissioned Peter Tchaikovsky to compose the music for Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Its first performance in 1892 was a complete failure –– its critics and audience disliked it. However, since then, The Nutcracker has been the most widely performed ballet in the world. Almost every ballet company from Australia to Europe and Asia to America performs the The Nutcracker during the holiday season. The reason being, in 1954, George Balanchine, yet another world renowned choreographer, created a new production of The Nutcracker. If you’ve seen The Nutcracker, it was most likely a version based on Balanchine’s.

Learn more at:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


And a few more images…