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Latina adventurer goes from NFL cheerleader to wildlife explorer

By Pam Burrell


“As I crouched only a few feet from him, Kingo crouched in front of the camera, feeding on vegetation, seemingly undisturbed. I looked at him and then turned to Andy’s lens and said, ‘Clearly, the silverback is the dominant member of the group.’ I was about to add, ‘But females still exert power,’ when I felt tension brewing behind me. I turned back to see an angry-looking, canine-baring, 400-pound silverback coming straight at me. I guess he disagreed.”

And so shares Mireya Mayor — anthropologist, scientist, explorer, National Geographic correspondent and television host, mother, wife, former NFL cheerleader and now author of Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer

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Mayor was raised in Miami, Florida by three strong Cuban women. Her mother (Mami who left Cuba seeking political asylum when she was twenty years old with nothing but the clothes on her back), her Aunt Ica and her Grandmother (Mima).

They made frilly dresses for Mayor to wear, gave her ballet lessons and expected her to be a nurse or a school teacher. But even at the age of four the passion to explore and navigate the waters of the jungle was evident when she would rearrange her dining room chairs into a makeshift canoe while warning her mother to watch out for swarming crocodiles.

Mayor did not take the typical scientist route. In high school, she was a very good student, but admits to being not very good in science and math. Focusing on what her ballet lessons had taught her, she joined her school’s cheerleading squad. High school involved theatre/acting and singing.

After graduation she continued to act, in between mostly dead-in secretarial jobs realizing that the only way out was college. It was during this time that a friend challenged her to audition for the NFL as a professional cheerleader. It is also during this same time that Mayor’s passion for animals and exploring the wild was rekindled.

It wasn’t long before cheerleading took a backseat to studying rare species of animals — the start of her true passion.

Through Mayor’s descriptive yet easy-going language, the reader becomes an explorer. With her words, we are transported into the world of monkeys, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, leopards, sharks, snakes, leeches, and huge spiders.

There were times I felt as if I were reading a travel book and other times a page-turning thriller.

The strength of Mayor’s story/memoir is that she is an incredible role model for women and young girls. She proves to be smart, strong, tenacious and one tough woman in pink boots while defying death, disease and disaster.

With a dry sense of humor she does not always take herself seriously, but always takes her work seriously. She remains true to herself and is not afraid to challenge a system that so blatantly has brought too many of the earth’s species to extinction.

This is an empowering story that should inspire all women and young girls to never give up on their dreams or their desire to live a life they love.



Pam Burrell is a reference librarian in Laredo, Texas and is a member of the Review ‘N Receive program.

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