Kathryn Jesperson, a senior at St. Michael-Albertville High School, stole the hearts of the audience when her boyfriend of five months, Cameron Johnson, carried her across the decorated gym floor during their trip through the 2012 prom grand march.
"It was just one of those things. We were like, 'Should we hold hands? Should he push me through?' And finally, he just decided to pick me up," Kathryn said.
But the story of how she wound up here, today, is more inspiring than a grand march could ever be.
Kathryn was a protégé of her big sister, Amanda Jesperson (now Amanda Schmidt) back in 2002. She would tag along as Amanda did dance classes, and, as soon as she could, took classes of her own.
"There was no way she was going to start at the bottom and work her way up," said Wendy Graack, former owner of Dance Impressions in St. Michael. "She was going to jump in and be right in the same class as her sister. And she did it."
Then, at the age of 7, she came down with the flu. With a dance lesson on her schedule for that night, she toughed it out, and tried to go on. Wendy, however, knew something was off.
"She had to sit out. She never does that," Wendy said.
Kathryn's mom, Penny, nursed her daughter through a high fever, and things seemed to be turning around. But when Kathryn's fever broke, her hands and feet were freezing cold to the touch.
They headed to a clinic in Rogers, where doctors immediately called for an ambulance. Kathryn was transported to Children's Hospital in St. Paul, where a CAT scan revealed fluid around Kathryn's heart.
She was transferred to the Mayo Clinic, and in the process, things got worse. Kathryn's heart stopped, twice. She was subjected to two hours of CPR before she was put on a bypass.
Her heart was so damaged, doctors gave her a 1 percent chance of recovering with her original heart. They put her on a transplant list. She had a 10 percent chance of making it through the first night.
But Kathryn has always been about defying odds, her sister and mom said.
"We knew she was paralyzed. She had suffered a stroke during the CPR and was down. I don't think I knew everything that was going on," Penny said. "But I always thought she'd make it through."
Amanda, who was in her early teens, said she heard doctors and nurses call Kathryn a "miracle kid" after she made it through the first night. And when her heart started to recover—without much medical explanation—they were stunned.
Kathryn woke up two weeks after her heart stopped in January. She was told she wouldn't walk, but she would recover.
"I wasn't sure what to think. I remember watching a lot of movies," she said with a smile. "I really couldn't understand all that was going on around me."
After three months and three weeks in three different hospitals, she was allowed to go home. And one of the first things she wanted was to go back to dance class.
"She rolled in and said she wanted to keep going" Wendy said. "Not anywhere else, but here. She was going to dance here. And I was going to teach her. She didn't give me much choice."
Soon after the illness, Wendy and the Dance Impressions staff, which now includes Amanda, figured out a way to incorporate Kathryn into a performance.
"The biggest thing you had to deal with was her peers, and her friends. The last time they saw Kathryn," Wendy said, "she could walk. Now she wanted to dance with them, but she was in a wheelchair."
It worked out, and provided one of the more moving moments in Wendy's experience as a teacher, she said.
Now 17, Kathryn has never stopped dancing. She moves her arms and upper body gracefully, using the chair to move through the studio.
In life, it's much the same. She bounces from class to class in the new high school (which is a better fit than some of her first schools, she said, because of access). She has friends and a boyfriend. She has aspirations of heading off to college to become an occupational therapist.
"I think what happened when I was little is something that has made me who I am today," Kathryn said. "I wouldn't be the same person I am now."
There are times of frustration, especially when she sees kids take things for granted.
"I can't accept it when someone just doesn't try, with all the gifts they might have. I think about what I could do if I had their ability," Kathryn said. "That gets me the maddest. When I see someone not putting in the effort."
Wendy and Amanda say they have incorporated that work ethic into their own beliefs.
"She's right," Amanda said. "When you have things handed to you, versus working for everything like Kabby [Kathryn] has had to do, it can make you mad."
"I've made everyone work hard," Wendy said. "But, she's always wanted it more. She's amazing that way."
Amanda and Kathryn and Dance Impressions held their spring performances last weekend. Kathryn took center stage for one last performance, set to Joe Nichols' "Impossible." It brought down the house.
Kathryn has her sights set on St. Cloud State for college, but first, she needs a summer job. She said she's applied a few places—"almost everywhere I can think of at the Outlet Mall," but she hasn't received any offers.
"I think that's kind of sad," Wendy said, intervening. "People, maybe, just can't get past the chair. If they did, they'd see how hard she'd work."
Kathryn said she'll keep trying, and when she's done she hopes to come back to St. Michael. After all, it's a unique home.
"They did a lot of work to make my mom and dad's home fit me after I was first paralyzed," she said. "I'd like to live there. I love St. Michael."
Then, after a look out the window, a new thought came to her.
"But I'd love to travel as much as I can, too," she said.