Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse Survivor Recounts Inspiring Recovery
Five years after the accident, Shannon Raddin describes her healing, and that of her teenage daughter, Jade Walcott, as their “journey back to greatness.”
Photo by Tony Valainis
On August 13, 2011, Shannon Raddin, 34, and her 10-year-old daughter, Jade Walcott, were injured when the overhead stage rigging collapsed on the crowd gathered for a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair, a tragedy chronicled in the August 2012 issue of IM. Seven people died in the accident; Raddin sustained severe leg injuries, and Walcott suffered a traumatic brain injury, prompting doctors at Riley Hospital for Children to keep in her a medically induced coma for nearly three weeks.
Five years after the event that changed their lives, Raddin and Walcott are still recovering—both physically and emotionally. Here, Raddin recounts their inspiring journey.
In the years that followed the accident, I had daily aches and pains. I would slip and fall around once a month, because my left hip was crushed in the accident and was weaker than it used to be. Thankfully, that didn’t keep me from enjoying my life. In the summer of 2015, four years after the accident, I started to ride bikes competitively with my husband. I even won two state championships for my age group that first year. However, one bad slip and fall on a damp bathroom floor that July left me struggling to walk normally, let alone bike.
It took three weeks before I could get back on a bicycle. I thought I would continue as usual, but just a few rides back in, and I had to step off the bike again. My husband and I had just made it to the top of a steep climb when I knew I couldn’t go on. My legs just weren’t working right. I can’t really explain it. It was like they wouldn’t activate when my brain told them to. At that point, I stopped cycling altogether and made a doctor’s appointment.
During this time, sitting was incredibly painful. I iced constantly to keep the swelling in my hip down. I was in physical therapy, but nothing was alleviating the pain. My doctor wanted me to just rehab the hamstring and wait for it to heal. But I knew something bigger was wrong, and physical therapy wasn’t going to cut it. Without the answers I was looking for, I started to get a bit discouraged and depressed. I got a life coach, who taught me how to make my experiences positive. Instead of fretting over not knowing what was wrong with me, I framed the issue a different way: I was going to find the perfect surgeon who would take me back to cycling again, and back to things I hadn’t done since the accident. After several tests, I finally found out I had a rare nerve injury that’s usually only seen in traumatic childbirth. The injury was leftover from the accident, and went unnoticed until now. In February of 2016, I had surgery on my leg, and now I’m back on my bike and I’m doing amazing. The slipping and falling has stopped, too. All that to say, there are still injuries from the accident I didn’t know I had, and I’m still dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy.
My daughter’s injuries weren’t so much physical as they were emotional. Jade’s journey was the most difficult between ages 12 and 14. For any girl that age, those years are difficult. They’re just a little more difficult after having experienced a traumatic brain injury. She struggled a lot with controlling her moods at first. She would sometimes feel a bit down, would cry, or laugh, but have no explanation for why she felt the way she did. Now, at 15, her moods are under control, as long as she gets enough sleep. Like others who have experienced brain injuries, Jade definitely needs more sleep than someone her age who hasn’t experienced that trauma.
This past year, Jade was accepted into the musical theater program at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts. She recently put on a solo performance to an Adele song in downtown Cincinnati. Pretty soon, she’ll be driving. We’re taking extra precautionary measures with that by signing her up for more driving courses. We want to ensure we don’t put her in a position where she’s vulnerable to another accident.
All things considered, Jade and I are doing great. Our lives were both changed forever because of the stage collapse, but I think we’re better because of it. On a physical level, my hips are full of metal, and my muscles might never return to their state pre-accident. But on an emotional level, my life is richer because of this experience. I’m stronger than I was before because of what I’ve been through. I’ve had to face challenges that the average person doesn’t have the opportunity to overcome. It’s been an emotional, beautiful journey for both of us. I try not to call it a “journey of recovery” anymore. I call it our “journey back to greatness.” I’m so thankful for where we are. We’ve taken those broken pieces the tragedy left us with and we have made them work perfectly for us.