It was "Most Memorable Year" week on Dancing With the Stars, which brought up emotional memories for one of the competition’s front-runners, Bindi Irwin. The 17-year-old chose 2006, the year her father, Australia’s legendary "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, died.
"It’s been nine years and I’ve never really dwelled on that point when he did pass away," Irwin told pro partner Derek Hough during their week of rehearsals. "I think that I’m ready to kind of tell that story."
"Steve and Bindi were just absolutely inseparable," Bindi’s mom Terri said of her late husband. "I’d never met anyone bigger, tougher, stronger, and yet more sweet and sensitive. Especially when it came to Bindi."
"I can remember being little and the one thing I wanted to do was be just like dad when I grew up," Bindi reminisced. "I still feel like that."
Irwin died after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming a documentary titled Ocean’s Deadliest. Terri continues the couple’s work running the Australia Zoo to this day.
"When they told me about Steve’s accident, it completely broadsided me, because Steve was only 44 years old," Terri recalled. "It was kind of unreal for Bindi."
While Terri did not speak at her husband’s public memorial service, an 8-year-old Bindi did, giving a moving speech to the crowd of thousands who gathered at Australia Zoo’s famous Crocoseum to remember the wildlife icon.
"Bindi was so strong at the time, but when you love someone that much, it’s like totally losing a piece of your heart," Terri said of her daughter. "You're really not gonna get over it."
"It took a really long time to understand what actually happened," Bindi echoed, growing emotional. "For the rest of my life, I’ll kinda feel like he’s gonna come home."
Even rehearsing her contemporary dance with Hough brought back strong memories for 17-year-old wildlife conservationist, who broke down during some of the pair’s rehearsals.
"When Bindi lost her father, you know, the whole world kind of did," Hough said. "We all feel like we knew him, which is why it was so devastating. It gets you thinking about just how precious life is."
"No matter where I go, Dad will always be with me," Bindi added prior to the couple’s dance. "I wish that he could fully understand how much he’s done for me and that I miss him."
Terri and Bindi’s younger brother Bob looked on emotionally as Bindi broke down once again after the pair’s stunning contemporary performance, set to a cover of "Every Breath You Take."
"This dance is for my dad," she told the crowd and substitute host Alfonso Ribeiro. "For my family and everybody back at home, but for my dad."
The judges were emotional as well, praising Irwin and Hough’s heartfelt dance and the tribute to her late father.
"He was dancing with you every step of the way," judge Bruno Tonioli told Bindi. "He’s proud of you, Austraila and the world is proud of you."
"I’m so proud of this girl," Hough agreed. "She is one of the most extraordinary young ladies I’ve ever met in my entire life and has made this season one of my favorite seasons to date. She’s a bright light, she is so special."