Fred T. Foard freshman Mary McKenzie Finger always watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV with her cousins.
This year, she won't be watching the 84th annual parade in New York City -- she'll be performing in it.
Finger, 14, is a J.V. cheerleader at Foard, and she was selected to perform in the parade this summer during a Universal Cheerleading Association camp.
The judges told her, at first, that she was going to Philadelphia, and gave her a card to confirm the honor. When Finger entered the card's code online, she discovered she wasn't going to Philadelphia. She is going to New York City.
"I was so surprised when I was selected," Finger said. "It didn't seem real."
Perhaps the honor will become real for Finger when she and her family leave Nov. 20 for a week-long trip to New York to prepare for Thursday's parade.
Finger, her mother, brother and her brother's girlfriend will fly from Charlotte Douglas International Airport to the city, where they're staying in a hotel near the famous Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
Finger will join cheerleaders from across the country to perform in a choreographed routine in front of the Macy's store in Herald Square during the famous parade.
Finger also participates in competitive cheerleading in Hickory.
"I just love tumbling," she said.
More than 3.5 million people are expected to line New York's streets, and an additional 50 million are expected to watch the parade from home.
The thought of so many people watching her perform intimidates Finger, but she's ready for the challenge.
"I just don't want to be that girl that messes up in front of everyone," she said.
But she's had plenty of encouragement from coaches and friends.
"They're really excited," she said. "They encouraged me to do it."
Since learning of her upcoming parade performance, Finger practiced the routine she will perform during the parade using a video of the routine posted online. The cheerleaders will be divided into two groups, and because the cheerleaders don't know which group they'll be in, each participant must learn to separate routines.
In addition to a performance by the Macy's building, Finger said she and the other cheerleaders will stop to perform a few times along the parade route.
The weather forecast calls for rain in New York this Thanksgiving, and Finger hopes for dry weather.
She received her uniform for the parade, which is a bright pink, long-sleeved top with a pink skirt. She will receive her pom poms when she arrives in New York.
Although much of Finger's time in the city will be dedicated to preparing time for the parade, she'll also have a chance to be a tourist, too.
She plans on touring the Empire State Building and other iconic landmarks. She also plans on seeing a Broadway show.
When she isn't cheering, Finger loves sports and playing in the band. She hopes to attend Virginia Tech and balance her time between cheerleading and marching band.