Last October, Astra Waller died after a 20-year fight with cystic fibrosis.
One year later, coaches, parents and students within the Bingham High School drill team continue to honor the unlikely dancer as a Minerette forever.
Diagnosed at birth with a disease that would rob her of much of her lung capacity, Waller never let the limitation hinder her ability to express herself, whether in dance or in word. She wheeled an oxygen tank and struggled for air, but she was strong-willed and candid, said friend and fellow Minerette Kinsie Jaramillo, and that was part of what made her so magnetic.
"She would say what she needed to say because she didn't know she was going to make it to the next day," Jaramillo said. "She lived every day to the fullest, and she was an amazing person to be around. I feel honored even to have known her."
To honor, and give voice to, their once-outspoken friend, teammate and sister, the drill team wears pink wristbands inscribed with the words "Minerettes Forever" and incorporates stars of the same color (Waller's favorite) in all of their clothing as a reference to Waller's given name, Astra, which means "our little star."
Not stopping at a few pink accessories, Jaramillo and teammate Mikel Young memorialized Waller with a mural in the team's dance room– a pink star flanked by angel wings and inscribed with the Minerette hymn.
"It's a constant reminder every time we're in the dance room to work harder and never forget her," Jaramillo said.
Most recently, the team held a 5K run in Waller's name and later presented the $500 in proceeds to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Erin Richardson, Waller's sister who now coaches the Minerettes, said the tributes are an extension of the drive her sister inspired in others while she was alive.
"Obviously she was a fighter," Richardson said. "With her disease and still dancing, no matter how bad the news was or how stressful the disease was on her, she was just always so positive."
That positivity allowed Waller to enjoy three years and state and national championships as a member of the drill team despite a diagnosis that claims roughly half of those affected before age 30. It was a formative experience in her short life, Richardson said, and one that she cherished.
"Minerettes totally defined her in her high school years," she said. "That's where she met her best friends, so I know being a Minerette was definitely a dream come true for her."
Though many would have considered Waller's early aspirations just that, a dream, Richardson said Waller never sought special treatment. Dancing on essentially a single lung and having to be told to sit down because her lips were turning blue inspired those around her, and that, in turn, is why they honor her.
"She was such an inspiration to me," Jaramillo said. "Knowing that she danced with that little lung capacity, I don't complain at all. I just push through because I know how hard it was for her, and it makes me want to do better."
Honoring a fallen star
Former Bingham High School Minerette Astra Waller died on Oct. 22, 2011 after a 20-year fight with cystic fibrosis.
In the wake of her death, coaches and fellow Minerettes honored Waller with commemorative wristbands and a mural dedicated to the unlikely three-year dancer, who continued to compete on less than 50 percent lung capacity.
The Bingham drill team continues to honor their friend and teammate by holding benefit events, such as the Astra Waller Memorial Minerette 5K, which raised $500 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.