Special Reports

Chrissy Popadics tries to stay sane despite fame

Chrissy Popadics is "taking it easy" this year.

Last year, the gymnast-turned-Boise State cheerleader-turned-fiancee of star BSU tailback Ian Johnson nannied, taught gymnastics, coached cheerleading, served at the Ram and held down a cocktailing job.

This year, the marketing senior has whittled her schedule outside school and cheerleading to two jobs: She works as a server at Meridian's Texas Roadhouse on nights she's not cheerleading and coaches the Borah High School cheerleading squad.

"I'm trying to stay more sane," says the almost-22-year-old, who became a national sensation on New Year's Day. That's when Ian knelt down (after scoring the winning points in the Fiesta Bowl) and proposed on national television to the beaming cheerleader.

A whirlwind trip to New York followed, with appearances on ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN's "American Morning," and ESPN's "Cold Pizza."

It's been two months since the Fiesta Bowl fervor, but life hasn't slowed down much for Chrissy.

We wanted to find out a little bit more about the female half of this fairy-tale couple as they finish out the school year and head toward their July 28 wedding at Boise's Cathedral of the Rockies.

We followed Chrissy during a few of her jam-packed days last month and found the she's never had much use for sitting around.

Her pared-down schedule, theoretically, makes this year less intense, unless you add in the wedding planning and the slew of speaking engagements and events that she and Ian are invited to attend almost every day.

"This time of year I get so busy," says Chrissy.

Friends, coaches and employers all use the same words to describe Chrissy: Outgoing, bouncing, bubbly, compact, full of energy.

She needs that last quality to navigate her days, which start well before the sun comes up with a cup of coffee (anything sugar-free with skim milk) from the Moxie Java stand in the business building before her 7:40 a.m. accounting class.

Johnson's performance on the field (and his crocheting off) made him a media star, even before the Fiesta Bowl and his proposal launched him into celebrity. His coaches don't want that attention to interfere with his studies or his football, so they've cut off media access to him until the start of spring practice.

We had to make do with tiny peeks at the now-famous football player as we followed Chrissy over a couple of weeks to get a sense of what her life is like (Read the full account of a typical day in her life at IdahoStatesman.com).

The two grab at any moment that allows them to be together, whether it's Ian helping Chrissy study for an accounting test (a class he's already taken and done well in) or teaming up to judge a spirit contest at Lowell Scott Middle School.

From all accounts, the pair are well-matched. They both even like to shop.

"He's happy and bubbly and excited like Chrissy about little things," says Erin Lammers, one of Chrissy's friends and fellow cheerleaders.

"She's a wonderful girl," said Curt Christensen, the manager at the Texas Roadhouse where Chrissy works as a server. "Ian is an easygoing person, very approachable. She complements him really well. She's got that same lightheartedness."

That ability to smile through just about anything seems to be the only way Chrissy stays sane through her schedule and the hype. The couple can hardly go anywhere without autograph requests, not to mention squealing and giggling.

Even at the Texas Roadhouse, without Ian at her side, without her cheerleading garb on, people recognize her.

"They'll look at me funny and ask if I've served them before," Chrissy says.

Then Chrissy mentions her boyfriend is a BSU football player and kind of a famous one, at that.

Realization dawns and the requests for autographs begin.

Some customers even ask if the couple will speak at their church or be special guests at surprise birthday parties.

They nearly caused a riot at that Lowell Scott Middle School spirit contest.

Chrissy is a Lowell Scott alum, and her brother John is the co-student body president there.

Even Principal Joe Yochum got into the action, asking Ian for an autograph for his young daughter. When he introduced them to the students, the decibel level shot up.

Chrissy takes the fame, the recognition, the work of planning for a wedding in stride.

"They're really humble," says Carissa Pratt, who works with Chrissy at the Texas Roadhouse and will photograph the couple's wedding. "There's a lot of attention on them. But what they have, a lot of that was going on before."

And it will continue, says Chrissy, long after the Fiesta Bowl hype has died.

She says her days will always be busy, but this is her last year cheerleading and she's hoping to get a good-paying full-time job next year as she finishes up school so she can better support Ian as he works the football angle.

"This year was awesome," says Chrissy. "But I'm looking for a full-time job. That way Ian is supported, and he won't have to worry about a house payment and working.

"I'll take care of him. It will be the other way around in five years when we have children or whatever."

Emily Simnitt is the Idaho Statesman's online reporter. To offer story ideas or comments, contact her at esimnitt@idahostatesman.com or 377-6429. Check out her stories at IdahoStatesman.com/Simnitt.

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