An 8-year-old girl who's grabbing America's attention for performing solo at a Florida cheer competition ended up taking home a first-place win after her fellow squad members didn't show.
"It was a light-switch moment," mom Nichole Thorsby told Fox News Digital. "She said, ‘No, I’m going out there. I want to do it. I want to perform.' And she did it."
When Peyton Thorsby of New Port Richey arrived at the Showcase of Champions cheer competition at the Florida State Fairgrounds, she and her family realized the girl was the only cheerleader from her squad who was present.
Thorsby said other members of the team were out due to illness and prior commitments, but she was unaware her daughter would be the lone representative of the "Fly" squad from the K-Tech Krakens youth cheerleading organization on competition day.
"Now, we’re just focused on the positivity of an 8-year-old girl," Thorsby said, adding that the other squad members were contacted as time ticked away.
Young Peyton was waiting in the back, along with her coaches. When no one else arrived, it was "go" time.
"Her coaches, Leah Mason and Nikki Melucci, called me [from backstage] and explained they were standing there, talking to Peyton," Thorsby said. "She's looking at them like, ‘I don't think I can do this.’"
But then, something changed the first-year competitor’s mind.
"I didn't really want my team to be disappointed in me for not going out there and not showing up for them, and so I made my decision," the young cheerleader told Fox 13.
"I wanted to go out there, and I wanted to make my family proud and all my friends proud for myself," she added.
Thorsby said she broke down in tears when she learned her daughter was going to go for it.
"I have goosebumps thinking about it now," Thorsby told Fox News Digital. "My husband obviously was there, and we just looked at each other. I started crying. It was excitement for her. Of course, I was nervous for her, too. It was shock and excitement. It was emotional."
What was supposed to be a routine full of group stunts — with young Peyton was the flyer — was instantly revamped. Yet Thorsby said she had no doubt her daughter could pull it off.
"She's just a performer," Thorsby said. "She's just her own person. That's who Peyton is. She's just herself."
Coach Leah Mason agreed.
"Peyton’s definitely a firecracker for sure," Mason told Fox News Digital. "She’s one of those cheerleaders who is always going for broke. She’s all in and is always very excited to be there. We’re so happy with how she comes out and practices and performs."
Thorsby said, "[The coaches] told her, at that point, just to go out there and do whatever it was that she wanted to do. So she goes right to her spot and starts the cheer."
The girl performed every move on cue; and in the moments when the squad as a group would have been doing a stunt, young Peyton threw in a one-handed cartwheel or a forward roll, did the splits or bounced her knee to the beat and waved her hands in the air.
Thorsby watched from the sidelines as her third-grader wowed the crowd.
"I just cried and cried," Thorsby said. "And then she got off the stage, and then there was just all kinds of crying."
When she finished, the look on the girl's face said it all, Thorsby revealed.
"The smile couldn't get any bigger," she said.
"I'm sure her cheeks were just hurting. She's like, ‘Mommy, I did it. I can't believe I did [it].' She was just shocked that she just went out there and killed it. Came up with stuff on her own. She definitely was proud of herself."
Not only did Peyton Thorsby perform alone — she took first place out of three teams.
"Not that I didn’t expect a trophy, but she got first place and she didn’t do half of what the others did because it was just her," Coach Nikki Melucci told Fox News Digital.
She added that the girl's first-place win was likely due to her maxing out her tumbling points.
Thorsby said she credits her daughter's coaches for preparing her for a moment like this — and in other areas of her life as well.
"Cheer has brought a lot out of Peyton this year," Thorsby said. "School has always been difficult because when she was starting school, COVID was going on. So, unfortunately, she’s behind."
Teachers are now "ranting and raving" over the girl's performance in the classroom, Thorsby said.
"She works hard at school and right now it's like she's really getting it," Thorsby said. "I think it's the confidence that she's getting from cheer that's really helping her to have that mindset [of], 'It's OK if I make a mistake.'"
Coach Melucci said she is grateful to have been a part of the experience — and of young Peyton’s first year of participating in cheer.
"This is my first year coaching and this is a very proud moment for me," Melucci said. "I watch the video to this day and I cry."
When she’s not cheering, the girl loves playing with her two "mansion doll houses" and she loves to dance.
Peyton Thorsby mentioned her faith when talking with Fox 13 Tampa Bay, saying, "Jesus tells me to be brave, so I just went out there and was brave."
"Anything positive, Peyton takes and she soaks it [in]," Thorsby told Fox News Digital.
"Obviously Jesus is one of the most positive things. That's something she believes in."
Fox News Digital's Pilar Arias contributed reporting.