March 18, 2013

Dani Stipe runs up and down, up and down the stairs of her parents' Carroll house on a recent night.

It's an old habit. It eases the anxiety of this hall-of-fame runner.

And she needs some relief right now. Tomorrow she will shed most of her clothes and let a friend draw with permanent pen the names of hundreds of movies on her slender, porcelain frame.

Stipe, 25, wonders what people might think. She's paranoid of what it might look like. What she'll look like.

Running has been a passion. As a Kuemper Catholic runner, Stipe scored eight state track titles. She later set records as a heptathelete at the University of Northern Iowa.

But movies are a new passion. She has kept track of the past 624 she's seen.

Stipe had decided to combine the two hobbies for a Redbox photo contest, in which the company asked its customers to submit photos that show their love of film.

Stripe thinks she has the winning idea. But can she do it?

Can she be a movie buff, in the buff?

Stipe lives movies. She raves about them.

Her favorite is "Mama Mia," which stars her favorite actress, Meryl Streep. It's the movie that launched Stipe's cinephile streak.

But she criticizes them, too.

She wishes the "Neverending Story" would have ended sooner and that "The Master" would have never begun.

She jots each one in her movie diary.

So when the national video-rental giant Redbox - with its big red video vending machines outside grocery and convenience stores - announced its search for the No. 1 film fan in America, Stipe was compelled to enter.

She checked the Redbox Facebook page and saw some of the photos that other potential winners had submitted. They smiled as they held their favorite movie's DVD.

"I started looking at those, and people had pictures of their DVDs and their posters," Stipe said, "so I was like 'OK, that's not very original.'

"This is something I actually believe in, and I could actually win this."

She stared at her room filled with DVDs and movie posters. She remembered her diary of movie titles that started a few years back.

"Not everybody does that," she recalls thinking a the time.

She started to think outside the box.

At Kuemper, she was a virtual one-woman track team.

As a senior in 2006, Stipe won the long jump with a school-record leap of 18 feet, 11 1/2 inches, setting a Class 2A state-meet record. She took the 100-meter crown for the second year in a row, diving across the finish line in 12.47 seconds, and then ran away with the title in the 200 meters - her time of 24.98 seconds set another record.

Stipe's 100 and 200 times were the fastest of any girl runner at the state meet that year.

Her 55-second leg that anchored her team's 4x400 relay delivered her first state relay title. And it capped a weekend in which she won four titles, raising her career total to an astounding eight state titles.

This year, as she pondered the picture that might win the Redbox contest crown, it made sense to her to combine her former obsession with her current one.

"I knew my picture needed to have some kind of a story and history with it that said it's not just because of this contest, I really am a movie fan, which I think my picture told," she said.

It doesn't hurt when you have the physique to pull it off.

"It was also shocking, and I knew it was going to catch people's eyes. I'm not going to deny that," she told the Daily Times Herald.

While the idea was simple in theory, it was much more complex in execution.

Stipe needed help, and she called upon friends and family.

Too excited to wait, Stipe sent a text message late one night to her friend and business partner Nick Behm, asking for assistance. Behm and Stipe recently opened the graphic T-shirt store 1-2-Tee.

"It was at 4 (o'clock) in the morning, and she sent me a text that said, 'I'm going to need you to come over tomorrow and write all over my body,' so I was pretty confused," Behm recalled. "Once she explained the idea in conversation it made more sense."

The day after Stipe's up-and-down runs of her parents' stairs, Behm spent 2 1/2 hours writing on Stipe's legs, stomach and right arm while she spoke and spelled the movie titles from the diary she held in her left hand.

She wore a sports bra and short shorts.

Stipe's knee caps were the hardest to navigate, Behm said. He didn't finish the job before he had to leave for work.

So Stipe - a walking Sharpie billboard - went to dinner at her brother's house, barely clothed in fear that the marker would rub and smear. She asked her mother, Kathy Stipe, to finish the job.

"I just thought it was very creative. I thought it was a very unique angle," Kathy Stipe said. "She loves to watch movies, and she truly does have them all written down in a book, and it is like a diary of her life."

Kathy finished the living-movie masterpiece by scrawling the remaining movie titles on her daughter's left arm and chest.

Dani Stipe submitted the photo and waited anxiously for people to "like" it on Redbox's Facebook page. She checked for an update every 15 minutes and asked her Facebook friends to lend their support.

Stipe's father, Dan, went to the Carroll Public Library so he could cast votes from each of its computers.

When the voting closed, Stipe was in 10th place. She didn't know whether the Redbox judges would look past her lesser standing.

Stipe thought the phone call on Feb. 25 was a prank at first. Someone claiming to be a Redbox official said she had won the contest.

"Come home ASAP," she sent in a text message to her mom, who worried that the news wouldn't be good.

Kathy Stipe recalls: "When I walked through the door, and she told me (her daughter had won) I truly was speechless. I was absolutely dumbfounded when she said she won the whole thing, so it was just very cool."

Behm knew Dani Stipe's idea had a chance, but he was still shocked by the good news.

"I knew she had a chance, but I still couldn't believe that she won," he said. "It was pretty crazy."

Stipe won prizes worth more than $5,000, which included a 3-D Blu-ray home theater entertainment system, a 60-inch TV and a PlayStation PS3 gaming system.

She gave the PS3 to Behm for his efforts.

And although Stipe was thrilled with the entertainment system, she enjoyed the symbolic memento that came from her victory: Redbox's Ruby Award Statue.

"Anyone can go buy the entertainment system - it doesn't mean anything," she said."But only one person gets that statue, and it means that I actually am a movie fan."

Sound and Service, of Carroll, installed the new system on March 6, which is Stipe's birthday.

"It was the best birthday ever," she smiled.