The lives of the Webb family changed forever on Feb. 27, when their SUV was struck by a dump truck on Route 3 in Columbia.
That crash claimed the life of Emily Webb, the matriarch of the family, and injured all six of her children.
Two of the children, Olivia and Levi, stayed in the hospital for almost three months to receive surgery and therapy to treat various injuries.
Now, life is returning to some semblance of normality, thanks in part to the family rejoining The Thunder and Lightning Cloggers, a local dance group the Webbs have participated in for years.
Bryan Webb, Emily’s husband, explained why the family got back to clogging almost as soon as they could.
“One, it’s good therapy for Olivia (who suffered severe brain trauma),” he said. “And, two, we all really enjoy it. It’s kind of like asking ‘why would you walk after the accident?’ It’s something we did all the time.”
Clogging, a type of folk dancing in which the dancers’ footwear is used percussively by striking it against the floor, has been in the family for generations.
Bryan and Emily met when they both joined a clogging group called The Happy Tappy Cloggers. The group was for ages 9-18. Bryan and Emily were 11.
Both of their parents liked that style of dancing and passed it on to their children.
“It’s just part of that heritage that we have,” said Deanna Hardgrave, Emily’s mother and director of The Thunder and Lightning Cloggers.
That was also the case for Bryan and Emily’s six children: Samuel, Isaac, Olivia, Josiah, Audrey and Levi. The two oldest sons do not enjoy clogging, but the rest of the children do.
“My daughter Olivia got into it as soon as she could dance when she was 5 or 6. My other daughter Audrey is 7 and she’s been doing it for about a year.”
Bryan’s twin sons, age 5, are also interested but not yet able to dance.
Hardgrave said it was an emotional moment for her when she learned her grandchildren wanted to continue clogging after Emily’s death.
“I’m proud they want to continue their mom’s legacy,” she said while holding back tears. “It’s something that’s been in the family a long time. It’s just part of us. I know this is what Emily would want.”
Bryan and Emily founded The Thunder and Lightning Cloggers after moving to the area in 2001 before their children were born. Originally, the group was only five people, but it quickly grew, more than doubling in size within months.
After the crash, the cloggers temporarily lost the Webb family as members as they took time to recover.
But in June, shortly after Olivia got out of the hospital, the Columbia family returned to the dancers they had performed with for years.
Bryan said Olivia especially looks forward to the group’s practices, despite not being able to fully use the right side of her body and coping with memory problems due to her injuries.
“She loves it,” he said. “Every Monday night she cannot wait to go. She loves doing it and remembers a lot of the dances. She loved it before, and she still loves it.”
Following a few weeks of practice, the Webbs danced in a show for the first time since the crash during the Monroe County Fair on July 29.
Hardgrave said that performance was also moving for her.
“It was kind of like a dream come true because the love for dance Emily had was amazing,” she said. “When she would dance in front of a crowd, she would just beam. To see the family continue that legacy, it made my drive to continue the group and to support the group stronger.
“I know I have to continue to do this for the children.”
Bryan agreed, saying he felt especially proud seeing Olivia dance after her injuries.
“It was very exciting to see her dance,” he said. “She’s not ‘whole,’ if you want to say it that way. She won’t ever be able to use her right side like she used to, but it was very touching and very exciting to see her be able to do something that she enjoyed so much before.”
Hardgrave also said she wanted to thank the community for their support of her family throughout the last few months.
“I just want to thank everybody for their support and what they’ve done,” she said. “Monroe County people have been absolutely amazing. The clogging group itself, that family of people, have absolutely stepped up and cared for the kids while they were in the hospital and have supported us throughout this whole process. I’m just very thankful to have these people in our lives.”
For more information on The Thunder and Lightning Cloggers and to stay up-to-date on upcoming performances, search the group’s name on Facebook.