November 24, 2020

Webster alum who survived eight gun shots learns to dance again

Rain Stippec is a dancer who received eight bullet holes to the back in February of 2017. Doctors told her she would never be able to eat or dance again. Nearly a year and a half later, she continues to defy the odds through her biggest passion: dance.

“I have this really stubborn quality where I basically thrive on proving people wrong,” Stippec said. “I’ve always been the person that’s like ‘Oh you don’t think I can do that? Hold on, let me show you.’”

Stippec, 27, taught multiple styles of dance to all different ages before she was shot. Stippec is now back to dancing at Central Studio in the Central West End. She is training to be a dance teacher again, which she said is what she has always loved to do since she was 15.

“There is something that I find joyful in every kind of student,” Stippec said. “I always tell people who want to teach that if you love your work, it’s not work–it’s play. It’s that feeling that you know you did something and changed however many kids’ lives.”

Stippec was once a young dance student herself. She has been dancing with her two sisters since childhood. Katie Stippec, Rain Stippec’s sister, said that everyone knew she would be back to dancing in no time, but it is still moving to see her actually do it.

“We had no doubt in our mind that it was gonna happen because she’s so tough and so strong and so determined,” Katie Stippec said, “but of course it’s still a beautiful thing to see her get back out there and overcome so many obstacles to keep living on her dream.”

It was not an easy journey to reach this point, however. Only one year ago, Rain Stippec had an colostomy bag, a feeding tube and many surgeries she had yet to go through. It wasn’t until her last surgery to remove her ostomy bag, Rain Stippec said, that she truly felt she transitioned from victim to survivor.

“I woke up in the recovery room, put my hand on my stomach and all I could feel was a bandage. Happy tears started flowing.” Rain Stippec said. “It was a surreal moment to me that said ‘this is done now. This is the last step. This is it.’”

While Rain Stippec is taking many steps to improve her physical health, she said that mentally she fortunately does not suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)  and that there have only been a few bad days where she negatively reflected on her experience. She has seen her accused shooters in court many times, and was there when the judge allowed one of them off of house arrest. This particular experience, she said, made her reconsider her overall safety.

“I have to worry now. I have to be looking over my shoulder and saying ‘What color is that car? Why did they turn around twice?’” Rain Stippec said. “But mostly I’ve been able to just keep going and take it day by day.”

The Arts Festival

Last year, Webster Alum and friend of Rain Stippec, Paige Walden-Johnson organized an event called the CommUNITY Arts Festival to raise money for victims of gun violence and Rain Stippec’s medical bills. They raised $10,000 last year. The festival included poets, dancers, artists and experts on gun violence prevention. This year, Walden-Johnson is hosting the same event with more improved events and speakers. The festival will be on Sept. 8. The money will go to first responders and victims of gun violence. Rain Stippec will even be doing her first dance performance since her incident.

“It just gives a whole new meaning to dance,” Walden-Johnson said. “Especially in college when you are training to become a professional dancer, you kind of get lost in the technique of it, or the competition of it just to get a job. But now it has become more than that.”

Rain Stippec and Walden-Johnson have been dancing alongside each other since their time at Webster. Since graduating in 2014, the two  have sustained a friendship even throughout the tragedy. Rain Stippec said this year, she does not want the festival to be about her reentry into the world, but rather to say thank you to those who have helped her along the way.

Some of the events last year and upcoming this year entail an exploration into movement therapy–using dance as therapy. Both Rain Stippec and Walden-Johnson have bonded through using dance as therapy since their time at Webster.

“Dancing alongside [Rain Stippec] in class is inspiring.” Walden-Johnson said. “It’s a moment for us all to move and forget about the monstrosities of the world.”

Rain Stippec said that this idea of movement therapy was effective to her when she was bedridden. She went from working 80-90 hours a week to not being able to stand on her own. She said that all she wanted to do during that time was move, but she always told herself there would always be tomorrow to take that step.

“You have to remember to tell yourself that you are going to have bad days. I spent 90 days in the hospital. It’s a day by day experience,” Rain Stippec said. “I always like to tell people that you can change anything in 24 hours because if everything can change in one minute, why can’t it change in 24 hours? Get rid of your bad day before you go to sleep and wake up with a new attitude.”

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