Salina Peace could hardly contain herself last week as she prepared to march, strut and twirl with Florida A&M University's prestigious Marching 100 band.
The annual Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University always serves as a showcase for the teams, but it's equally important to the bands. Maybe more so.
"It's the last game of the season," said Peace, a 19-year-old Tampa native in the band's flag corps. "We put forth energy on every game, but this game is so legendary and historical.
"It's more than a game, it's a battle."
At least one accomplished filmmaker and music producer has taken note. Dallas Austin, whose 2002 movie Drumline highlighted the drama behind bands such as the Marching 100, has produced a documentary series, The Battle, about the rivalry between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman.
Peace isn't featured in the show, but in recent times she has been fighting a battle of her own off the field.
Three years ago, her mother died of sarcoidosis, an abnormal inflammation that can affect any part of the body.
It was difficult, but Peace eventually gained an appreciation for life and its simplest aspects.
"It made me grateful for everything — my arms, my legs. I'm able to breathe," Peace said. "I'm able to do all kinds of things. I've learned not to take things for granted, but to appreciate them. Even the smallest of things."
Being part of the band has helped the Blake High graduate, but she took an unusual path in becoming part of the show.
Unlike many of the FAMU members, Peace didn't march with her high school band. The idea of joining the Marching 100 didn't cross her mind until she attended the band's summer camp just before beginning her freshman year at FAMU.
"I have a friend, Larika Welch, who was in the band," Peace explained. "She said, 'You should do band camp and see what it's like. You should do the flag corps.'
"I thought this could be an amazing journey."
Peace describes her introduction to the band as a humbling experience. She had to learn the basics during grueling practices. For a week the band practiced twice a day to prepare for the classic.
But she appreciates the lessons and says joining the band has made her a better person.
"What keeps me going?" Peace said. " I think it's the passion I have for the 100. I've been through something to get where I am now.
"Plus, it's great exercise," she added with a laugh.
Peace's stepfather, Keith Carpenter, says she has remarkable determination, and the band has taught her about teamwork and discipline.
"They've helped to shape her as she grows into a woman," said Carpenter, a director for the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office. "I've seen the growth. This will help her as she goes out into society. For the rest of her life, I think this will have a huge impact on her."
The rewards for Peace came with the halftime performances. Her heart raced when she first performed with the band at the 2009 classic, and she experienced that same adrenaline rush this year.
So who won this year's battle in Orlando? Naturally, Peace is biased, but with hip-hop artist DJ Khaled joining the Marching 100 for a rendition of his hit All I Do Is Win, the Rattlers went a notch above their usual halftime extravaganza.
"Our performance was over the top," Peace said. "We had no idea DJ Khaled would be there. When he came out, I think it gave everybody the extra oomph to play louder, dance harder, march straighter.
"It was amazing. It was 'krunk,' as people like to say."
Such moments are part of the fuel that keeps her going.
"Things like that just want to make you come back next year and see what's in store."
Ernest Hooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.