Her nickname was “Hay Hay” (by her mother and aunt) or “Spaghetti” (by her granddad).
She already flew on an airplane more times in one year than some do in a lifetime.
She had the “coach face” that was identifiable to any Salazar or Bustos.
Her given name was Haleigh Mary Bustos, and she had a profound impact in just one year of life. It was the only one she gave to this Earth. The daughter of New Mexico Highlands University interim head volleyball coach Karli Salazar and Justin Bustos, the university’s interim sports information director, died suddenly Monday.
Damon Salazar, who spent 10 years as head volleyball coach at Española Valley and coached his daughter, Karli, said his granddaughter died in her sleep, and the shock has yet to dissipate.
“We didn’t get a chance to see her and say goodbye,” said the elder Salazar. “When they die at that age, it’s horrible for the family.”
Damon called the past two days “numbing,” and almost every phone call to offer condolences or help has been a struggle for him to keep his composure. When he saw Haleigh’s toothbrush on Tuesday morning as he brushed his teeth, Damon broke down in sobs.
Amid those sobs, though, are cherished memories of “Hay Hay,” which Karli and her sister Kristi Salazar called her.
Karli said the most indelible memory her daughter left her was on the court. Haleigh was comfortable sitting in the volleyball cart amid a dozen or so balls during practice.
“She loved being in the gym, but she was with Justin for baseball and softball,” Karli said. “Throughout the year, she was at every home game [at NMHU], even if it was for a little bit.”
But the court was where she belonged. It was in her blood. Karli and her sister, Kristi, played volleyball at Española Valley. Justin’s family is well known in Las Vegas, N.M., for their court presence. His dad is David Bustos, the head coach at West Las Vegas. His mother is the late Mary Bustos, who coached volleyball for the Lady Dons and at Las Vegas Robertson before she died a day before the Lady Dons played in the state tournament in 2013.
Justin and brother D.J. played basketball under their dad — Justin at Robertson from 2008-12 and D.J. with the Dons from 2013-17. Sister Caelin played under her mother from 2011-13 at Robertson and West Las Vegas.
Chances are, Haleigh would have been coached by a Salazar or a Bustos.
“I’m sure she’ll be playing a lot of sports with Mary,” Karli said
And she would have been tall — that much, Damon knew. It’s why he called her “Spaghetti.”
“She was so skinny and long,” Damon said. “My girls are real skinny and the Bustos girls are all long and skinny, too. Her arms were long, her fingers were long, her feet were long. She had these huge, skinny, little feet.”
If anything, Haleigh was too good to be true. Damon said she slept easily through the night and didn’t cry much. She was walking already and had learned a few word. “Daddy” was her first word, which Damon indicated made Karli a little upset. Then there was “good girl,” which she used to refer to herself, and even learned some sign language on top of that.
Still, when Haleigh was admonished, she could give that “coach’s glare,” especially one that reminded the Salazar girls of their dad. But it was just a façade.
“She had a little mad face — a little henio —that she would do,” Karli said. “But she was just a happy, sweet baby. Always a happy baby.”
Even though her parents were often busy with work in the NMHU athletic department, Haleigh was never far away. If a relative didn’t watch her, she was with Karli or Justin in the office or the gym. Haleigh even made road trips to Nebraska and Colorado. Damon said she had been on plane trips about seven times already.
In December, the family celebrated Haleigh’s first birthday at the NCAA Volleyball Championships — where else? — in Pittsburgh.
If there was any solace in Haleigh’s death, it was that most of the family got to see her the day before she died. That included Salazar’s son, Sean, who came to Las Vegas on Sunday to visit his niece.
“Everybody happened to be here on Sunday,” Damon said. “I don’t know what got into my my son’s mind, but about 10 a.m., he said, ‘I’m going to come up and see Haleigh.’ ”
Perhaps it was the lasting gift Haleigh Mary Bustos gave — the memory of a family together for her last day.