By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Patrick McDonald
With the coordinated perfection that is required of elite drill teams to win in competition, anything that might cause a participant to perform at less than 100 percent seems like it would be a disqualifier. Yet, with team expectations that always put them in contention for the 5A state title, the 2014-2015 Bingham Minerettes feature two young ladies with physical conditions that would sideline most of us.
Through an amazing dedication and a strong support system from the teammates, senior Kassie Andus and Lexi Mirelles are not just surviving, but thriving, despite the obstacles in their paths. The team’s coach, Jamyn Miller, is amazed at what both young ladies are accomplishing and she considers their participation on the team to be nothing short of miraculous.
During the squad’s tryouts in March, Andus took a fall and injured her foot. It was the kind of break that was difficult to diagnose, a Lisfranc fracture.
“It’s when every bone in your foot is dislocated and not connected like it should be anymore,” Andus said. “As long as you’re not putting pressure on it, it goes back to normal. It was missed by four doctors, until I got it x-rayed with pressure on it.”
While she waited for the correct diagnosis, Andus took a month off and then returned to training, but the pain was ongoing.
“They thought I just chipped a bone, so I took a month off and then started dancing again,” Andus said. “It just really hurt me so I begged my mom to take me back, but no one got it. Finally, I went to an orthopedic surgeon and he found it. My doctor said it’s the most commonly missed foot injury. I probably had five x-rays, but on the last one I was standing and that’s when they saw it.”
All signs pointed to a senior year without drill for Andus, as doctors told her that 50 percent of people with this injury never return to dance, and certainly not in just a few months. Her final high school competition season was just around the corner.
After treatment, the senior was committed to being part of the Minerettes during that final season and she set out on a course to make that happen.
“I think it’s because I’ve gone to almost seven months of physical therapy,” Andus said. “They didn’t cast it, they gave me the freedom to move around with it a little bit with a splint and I think that helped a lot. Most of them, he’ll cast it for three months so there’s no movement. I had a walking boot, but I didn’t walk for like two months.”
There is still a lot of pain for Andus, but not enough to get her off the floor. She has been dancing since seventh grade, and she did not want to see it end with an injury.
“My doctor said I’d feel some pain for around a year,” Andus said. “Basically he said ‘if you’re going to dance, it’s going to hurt,’ but I kind of feel that’s a dancer thing. If you’re going to dance, you’re going to be in pain 50 percent of the time. I wanted to do it for my team. Drill means a lot to me. I’ve done it for three years and I’m not going to give up on it.”
Minerette team captain Sidney Ford understands her teammate’s desire to fight through.
“It was heartbreaking,” Ford said. “Once you’re on your third year, you want to give it everything. There’s so many good memories about drill into your senior year, so to see someone who, that was her passion, that happen to them their senior year, and our biggest part of drill is competing and she was told she wouldn’t be able to. That was heartbreaking because any of us don’t want to see that happen to us.”
As much as she understands Andus’ desire to compete and be part of the team, Ford is impressed with the way her friend has pulled it off.
“We watched her recover and she worked so hard,” Ford said. “She wasn’t someone who said ‘I’m hurt so I’m going to sit on the side. There’s nothing I can do.’ She was up and trying. Whether it was standing over there and hardly moving, like going through arms…She worked so hard to be back where she is right now. It was really cool.
“Usually in drill, once you’re spaced out of a routine, we just don’t have time to space someone back in, but she’s someone that we all trust and know that if we have to throw you in our routine like two weeks before competition, we will and we know she’ll be able to do it. It was only a couple of weeks before our first competition that she was spaced in and she’s awesome.”
Miller has so much confidence in Andus that she continues to ask a lot of the senior. Andus sits out the kick routine because of the impact on her foot, but if anything, her coach has put her in position to perform some of the most difficult maneuvers in the team’s dance routine.
“Our dance routine is a very technical routine and you have to be at an elite level to do it,” Miller said. “The fact that we knew she could do it – the turns, the leaps, the aerial. She’s in the long-turn section of this routine, and that says a lot about her, to be able to work to get that mastered.
“There are alternates in that routine, but knowing that she was able to handle that and she was able to master the skills needed for that routine is special, because that routine is very technical. She’s a turner and she’s very consistent and I knew I could count on her, and I knew her team could count on her, so she’s in there. We needed her to be part of that routine.”
A lot of credit goes to the medical professionals working with Andus.
“One thing she was really smart about was, in her physical therapy, she showed him some of the dance moves in the routine that she knew she couldn’t do with her foot and they gave her exercises so she could do those and prepare her to be in the routine,” Miller said.
Dancing Without Hearing
While Andus deals with the pain that comes with fighting through injury, Mirelles is another story entirely. The perfection in staying in sync with your team that is required in dance and drill is hard enough when you can hear and follow the music. Without that, it seems to be impossible.
At that same March tryout, another amazing story began to unfold for the Minerettes, with the arrival to the team of Mirelles.
“Lexi is deaf in both ears,” Miller said. “As a dancer and drill team member, you would think being deaf would eliminate you from this sport. Lexi has had such determination and a strong desire to be a Minerette, being deaf hasn’t stopped her. She has hearing aids that help a little bit, but she mostly reads lips, and has learned to feel the beat of the music in the floor. She is an anomaly and a miracle, and is living her dream of being a Minerette.”
Mirelles has been deaf pretty much her entire life as they confirmed the depth of her hearing problems when she was five years old, about the same time she started dancing, beginning with hip-hop.
The hearing aids help some, but even with them, Mirelles has to use every trick she can muster to help her compete at a high level in the sport she loves. She picks up some of the music better than other parts.
“It depends on the music,” Mirelles said. “Military when it’s high-pitched, I can’t hear. If it’s lower-pitched I can hear it better. I feel the vibration from the floor, the deeper it gets. It’s kind of hard (to stay in sync with the team), especially when they (the hearing aids) fall out and I really can’t hear at all or if they die, I can’t really hear it. I kind of watch everyone around me and kind of follow them.”
The conditions under which the team competes can also have an adverse effect on Mirelles. Crowd noise, for example, impacts her much differently than it does other people.
“The girls are so in sync and every little thing has to be right, and sometimes the music gets weird and if it’s too loud or too quiet, that’s the hardest part, trying to stay in sync,” Mirelles said. “You have to be tight, but if I can’t hear the music, you don’t know how tight you are because I can’t really hear the music. I just mostly watch people.
“When we do counts here, people do different counts than I do, I have to teach my ear to hear it in a different way, so when I hear the music I hear different counts than everyone else does. I can’t hear the little beats. I memorize it so I can tune my ears based on the situation. When they’re cheering, it gets loud and the frequencies get crazy, all I hear is one sound and it’s just like screaming, so that gets really hard in competition, so I just watch.”
Teammate and close friend Savannah Morris has been dancing with Mirelles since the two were in the seventh grade. Morris can’t remember a time when her friend has not been “on” with her dancing.
“I just think it’s amazing that she’s taught herself to do that (find the count of the music),” Morris said. “She’s always on. She’s always been one of the better ones, even with her hearing. It helps that she’s a hard worker and she’s dedicated.”
Andus is also impressed with the way Mirelles is able to “hear” the music and stay in sync with the rest of the team.
“I never realized how much you can feel dance,” Andus said. “I always try to put myself in her spot and feel the floor. She can feel the energy from our team when we dance. It’s amazing. To me, if I’m not dancing to music, that’s what pumps me up. She is awesome.”
Ford has been watching her new teammate for quite a while, and she is also a fan of the work ethic that makes Mirelles successful.
“I’ve known Lexi for a long time,” Ford said. “I can’t even explain it. I’m listening to it to get every count from the music. I don’t understand how she does it. She’ll wear hearing aids, but if one falls out, she’s not trying to put it back in while she’s dancing, she just keeps on dancing.
“She is one of the hardest workers and sometimes she has no idea what we’re saying. She somehow gets it and I don’t know how. She’ll tell people ‘I can’t hear what they’re saying,’ but she picks it up. She can’t hear the music, but she’s on. She’s not someone that you’re thinking that girls lagging back there, she’s on. She’s amazing.”
Miller does what she can to make things easier for Mirelles, but she does have to rely on others to assist with that, particularly when it comes to competition.
“There was one competition where they started our music very early,” Miller said. “I try to make sure they are able to wait until the crowd is quiet to start the music, but there was one routine where she was off because she couldn’t hear the music. She’s facing out away from the group so she couldn’t see either. The crowd was loud, the music was quiet and she couldn’t see at the very beginning. We just have to make sure the sound guy does not start the music until the crowd is quiet so she can be sure to hear the first beat.”
Even with that as a concern, her teammates have the highest level of confidence in Mirelles.
“When you’re on a team and you’re a leader, there are some things you worry about, but she’s someone I can honestly say I never worry if she’s going to hit something or be on with the music,” Ford said. “She just makes it happen. She doesn’t use not hearing as an excuse, ever. If she’s getting corrections or whatever happens, she would never use ‘I couldn’t hear’ as an excuse.”
Mirelles has always believed dancing was for her and she has never allowed being deaf to deter her.
“When I was little, I always thought girls should be dancers,” Mirelles said. “I did hip-hop because I thought hip-hop was cool. I’m not real good at sports, so I thought dance was more my thing. I’ve always done it and I didn’t ever think of anything else.
“I forget sometimes I’m deaf. People always ask me if it’s hard, but I think it’s kind of cool. There’s a lot of perks to being deaf. I don’t have to listen to people if I don’t want to and naps are really good. I think dance and drill has helped me a lot, being involved in a team and being really close.”
The presence of both Mirelles and Andus on the Minerette squad has probably done more for everyone else than it has even for them.
“I feel like it’s motivating to the team,” Miller said. “To see her (Lexi) and that she’s able to do this, they can’t complain and they can’t come up with excuses. The same with Kassie. If other girls start complaining, they have nothing to complain about compared to these two girls.”