Kennewick — A Kennewick native will help lead Seattle Seahawks fans in cheering on their team today in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Natalie Cain, a Southridge High School graduate, flew to the New York area Thursday with the Sea Gals cheerleading squad and will be on the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., when the Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos.
Cain is in her fourth year on the squad, which dances on the sidelines at each Seahawks home game.
And her father and boyfriend will be able to see her perform at the big game, thanks to another Seahawks fan from Kennewick who couldn't use his tickets.
Season ticket holder Fred Petragallo, 72, won the right to buy Super Bowl tickets in the Seahawks' lottery. But he decided to give them up because he has mobility issues and the seats he has tickets for might be difficult to reach.
Then there was the cost of a trip to New York.
"I wish I had the funds and that kind of stuff," Petragallo said. "It would have been big money to stay anywhere nice downtown."
So the longtime Tri-City plumber decided to put his tickets up for sale. While he was disappointed to miss the game, he was pleased that his former colleague Michael Cain -- Natalie's father -- wanted to buy them.
Making it to the game is the culmination of a dream for Natalie, Michael Cain said.
"I told her this is the biggest stage in the world and you're on it," he said.
Natalie was the only girl of six children, but is the only sibling to make it to the Super Bowl, her father said.
"They're all good athletes, but obviously they were never good enough to go to the NFL," he said.
Natalie participated in gymnastics from the time she was 3, training at Mid-Columbia Gymnastics in Richland, her father said. She took up cheerleading in high school, cheering for both the Southridge team and a competitive club.
She graduated from high school in 2004 and cheered for a year at Washington State University in Pullman before leaving the school. She considered transferring to the University of Washington to be a cheerleader there before ultimately deciding to perform on the other side of Seattle.
"A year went by and she said she was going to take it up another notch and try out for the Seahawks," Michael Cain said.
But getting to the Super Bowl wasn't easy for Natalie, he said. She first made the team in May 2007, a little more than a year after the Seahawks' first Super Bowl appearance in February 2006. She competed for two weekends to become one of 28 women selected as Sea Gals.
Natalie, who now lives in Kirkland, left the team after three years when she was pregnant with her son, Keoni, Michael Cain said. But she decided to give it another try after getting some advice from her father.
"I said if you are ever going to get back on the team, now is the time, because they've got a shot at the Super Bowl," Michael Cain said.
Natalie's first year back with the team was a big one. She got the honor of being the schedule girl in the squad's 2014 swimsuit calendar. That means she appears over two pages where the calendar folds out.
"It was a huge decision for her to come back," said Natalie's mother, Janelle Stromstad. "It's even more scary to try out again and make the squad again."
Natalie serves as a bit of a mother figure to the younger members of the squad, Michael Cain said. She works as an aesthetician for her day job.
Michael Cain and Stromstad, who are divorced, split the tickets Natalie gets, with each attending some of the games in Seattle. They sit in Section 122 in the end zone, allowing them to be close to Natalie during much of the game. But Sea Gals' families don't get tickets to the Super Bowl.
A busy trip
The trip to New York has been eventful for the Sea Gals, Stromstad said. They filmed a segment Thursday for Inside Edition with Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. Friday they appeared on the Today show -- along with the rival Denver Broncos cheerleaders -- and then had a rehearsal at MetLife Stadium, where they practiced dancing to the songs that will be played. They have appeared at parties and on Regis Philbin's Fox Sports 1 show.
"It's a whirlwind of appearances and being able to represent the Tri-Cities and Seattle and Washington," Stromstad said.
The women will be on the sidelines during the entire game on Sunday and will be on the field for Bruno Mars' halftime show, Stromstad said.
They will attend a party after the game, which Stromstad said is the only time during the season the cheerleaders are allowed to communicate with players.
"It's a very strict program," she said.
Stromstad, who is taking care of Natalie's son in the Tri-Cities while she is in New York, doesn't know of another Sea Gal who has taken three years off to return to the squad.
"It's been worth it," she said. "It's fun to see her so happy. They're just good girls. There's no cattiness or ill will between all of them."
The team is scheduled to fly back to Seattle on Monday.
Crossing off the bucket list
Michael Cain flew to New York for the game Friday, and will meet up Sunday with Natalie's boyfriend, who gets the other ticket.
It is Cain's first time in the city. Going to the Super Bowl allows him to cross another item off his "bucket list," he said. He already ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and swam with sharks in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
"I've been to China for 17 days, I've been to Mexico, but never to New York," he said.
Natalie Cain could not be reached for comment on this story. Interviews with Sea Gals must be set up with their director, Sherri Thompson, Seahawks officials said. Thompson did not respond to numerous calls and emails for four days.
Petragallo will likely watch this year's Super Bowl at his daughter's house, he said. He got tickets when the Seahawks played in the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006, and sold those as well.
He feels better about going should they make it -- and he gets lucky for a third time in the ticket lottery -- when the game is played in sunny Arizona in 2015.
"I don't see any reason why the team can't get there," he said. "This team is good."