SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Thousands of kids across KELOLAND are busy with football, soccer, volleyball, and a long list of other fall activities.
If you step outside, you may also hear the sounds of a local marching band practicing or performing.
As the sunrise shows off its colors against the clouds, the O’Gorman marching band is preparing for competition. Marching band isn’t a contact sport, but that doesn’t mean it’s not physically demanding.
“We’re moving at high velocities in a very specific and stylized way and it really doesn’t let up for eight to ten minutes depending on the length of the show,” O’Gorman Director of Bands Ben Koch said.
“Sometimes I hate watching myself because I know I’m doing it wrong,” 15-year-old O’Gorman student Alisha Mueller said.
15-year-old Alisha Mueller is in her second year of marching band, and is sometimes out of step.
“My right leg doesn’t exactly keep up sometimes with my left leg,” Alisha Mueller said.
The sophomore faces a unique challenge every time she steps onto the field… marching with a prosthetic leg.
“She’s never complained once. If it’s something that’s hurting that day or it’s something she can’t, she just says we’ve got to change this and we get after it, but she is just a trooper and always positive about it,” Koch said.
“I really enjoy it, so I want to do very, very well,” Alisha Mueller said.
We first met Alisha in the summer of 2018, when marching was a distant dream.
“I think about the future. I will be able to do some stuff again, like running, but right now you’ve got to get past this,” Alisha Mueller said in July 2018.
In February 2018, a bout with pneumonia and strep turned catastrophic. The strep made its way into Alisha’s bloodstream, throwing her body into toxic shock, and eventually cardiac arrest.
“Your child is coding in front of you and you know it’s been 20 minutes your thought is they’re going to tell us any moment that this isn’t going to be successful and you’re going to need to say goodbye,” Alisha’s mom Rachel Mueller said.
After nearly an hour of CPR and other lifesaving measures, Alisha regained a pulse.
“I woke up four weeks later and was told immediately that I was going to lose my leg,” Alisha Mueller said.
Alisha quickly realized amputation was the best case scenario.
“I was still kind of out of it but I was OK with it as long as I got to live,” Alisha Mueller said.
In addition to the amputation, Alisha lost sight in her right eye and landed on the kidney transplant list. Her vision has not returned, but her kidneys did heal on their own.
And then came the prosthetic.
“Once she got her leg, she had to actually learn to walk again and rebuild all those new muscles,” Rachel Mueller said.
“When you take into consideration what she had been through up to that point, the emotional and the physical duress that she had to go through and then to somehow muster up the motivation to, now I have to rehabilitate myself, it was very inspiring to watch her go through that,” Matt Mueller said.
Alisha was walking with confidence by Christmas, 2018, but had bigger aspirations.
“With my PT, I relearned how to run and how to get stronger,” Alisha Mueller said.
Physical therapy wasn’t the last obstacle Alisha would face. She eventually developed arthritis in her left ankle and hip, which led to a hip replacement in March 2021.
Months later, against all odds, Mueller joined the marching band. She intended to work behind the scenes, but O’Gorman Director of Bands Ben Koch had other plans.
“He convinced me to do mellophone. I don’t regret it at all. I love it,” Alisha Mueller said.
“I definitely would have had her on the sidelines but because Mr. Koch had faith in her, it’s been really good for her, it’s been good for her confidence level,” Rachel Mueller said.
“She contributes as much as any member and she’s definitely just out there working hard and is one of the family,” Koch said.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
“I had a pretty big fall a couple weeks ago. I was doing backward marching and I was going too fast and my leg couldn’t keep up and so it didn’t catch me, so I fell backwards and did like an armadillo roll (laugh),” Alisha Mueller said.
She may stumble and fall, but mom and dad know marching band has done wonders for her recovery.
“There was a moment where we didn’t know if she was going to live, we didn’t know if she lived if she were going to be able to attend regular classes with her classmates, we didn’t know how much damage would be done, so it’s very, it’s very rewarding as a parent just to know how hard she had to work to be out there,” Rachel Mueller said.
“It’s really been something for her that has really kind of rejuvenated her and given her real motivation to push herself,” Matt Mueller said.
Alisha’s parents call her an inspiration. She reluctantly agrees… with a smile.
“Sometimes I don’t really believe it myself, but I know I am (big laugh),” Alisha Mueller said.
Alisha doesn’t typically march during competitions on natural grass. She says her prosthetic leg tends to get stuck. O’Gorman will be back on turf this Saturday, October 1st at the 35th annual Festival of Bands in Sioux Falls.