From the moment they became friends at Hays High, Kara Davis could always count on a smile from Aspen Salazar.
The infectiousness of Salazar’s grin, paired with a distinctive laugh, played a role in what made her such a recognizable, memorable person to many. Such were traits that Salazar, a 2015 Hays High alumna, always carried and never let go.
“Aspen was goofy, sarcastic and frank, but at the same time, empathetic and friendly,” Davis said. “It was hard not to know who she was.”
For Davis and countless others, news of Salazar’s tragic death Monday remains a difficult moment to comprehend. But amid the sorrow, those who knew the 21-year-old recalled a vivacious person who was an uplifting force for many.
One of those was Aaron Fuller, former Hays High softball coach, who first met Salazar when she was a freshman in 2012. Fuller said Salazar was always fun to be around and lifted the spirits up of her teammates and friends. Rarely did Fuller not catch Salazar smiling or laughing; the latter is something that echoes in his mind to this day.
“She was one of those girls who always had a smile on her face and was laughing and giggling about something,” Fuller said. “I’m not sure if I ever saw her in a bad mood from the time I met her.”
Current Rebel head softball coach Lisa Cone also recalled Salazar’s joyful disposition when she took over the program in 2015. Such happiness translated around the softball diamond, where Salazar excelled, earning a myriad of accolades and postseason honors.
It was also on the field where Salazar got serious. Cone said Salazar was eager to make a play and wasn’t afraid to dive or jump to snag the softball.
“Her work ethic was just unimaginable,” Cone said. “She worked hard in just about every aspect. From the weight room, to running and playing on the diamond.”
Salazar was also a team player who was loud and cheerful, both on the field and in the dugout, Davis said. She was also “loved for her honesty” and her frank attitude.
“She would tell you like it is and nobody faulted her because she was true,” Davis said. “She was strong willed; nobody could convince her to do what she didn’t want to.”
But Salazar was also a fighter and someone who persevered, no matter the odds.
All rang true in 2014 when Salazar, who at the time was 17 years old, suffered a stroke in practice that spring, only to return to the field several weeks later. Driving her return were friends and teammates, who visited Salazar during her hospital stay, bringing a smile to her face during her recovery.
Fuller said his most vivid memory of Salazar came during the Rebels’ May 2014 bidistrict playoff game against San Antonio Jefferson. Salazar was initially hesitant to step foot on the diamond, having had just a few practices under her belt. But as the game went on and Hays’ lead grew larger, Salazar was eager and ready to step back into the batter’s box.
Salazar’s subsequent base-hit up the middle drove nearly every person at the field, from assistant coaches to teammates and parents, to tears, Fuller said.
“That showed the competitor she was,” Fuller said. “She could have said she was done. But she was driven and determined to get back out there and not let that stroke stop her.”
Remembering a “smiley, happy soul” is what Davis said will always stick with her.
“Her grace will be remembered through the friends and family that love her to no end,” Davis said.
A gofundme account has been set up to help the family of Aspen Salazar.