Who doesn’t know the actor Christopher Reeve, he of the Superman movies? Although he became famous from his portrayal of Superman, he starred in numerous other movies, the most popular of which was not as Superman, but as a love-struck time traveller in “Somewhere in Time,” with the hauntingly beautiful Jane Seymour.
On May 27, 1995, Reeve became a quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Virginia. He was confined to a wheelchair and required a portable ventilator for the rest of his life.
But this did not stop him from being active. He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries and for human embryonic stem cell research, founding the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. He also continued to be involved in Hollywood, directing and producing movies.
Christopher Reeve never allowed himself to wallow in misery and self-pity after his accident. He became a beacon of hope instead to disabled people everywhere, especially those afflicted with spinal cord injuries. He was a true super hero off-screen and here are three characteristics of Christopher Reeve that we can emulate in spite of what difficulties we may encounter, whether we are male or female.
The late U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
Nelson Mandela echoed this when he stated, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Reeve took up the fight of spinal cord injured people. That was most important for him. His own injury propelled him to fund research to find a cure for this type of affliction. Was he fearless? I don’t think so. He once contemplated suicide. Rather, he triumphed over his fears.
Reeve did not despair. He may have fallen into depression time and again as would anyone with severe injuries. But we can safely conclude he had a healthy dose of optimism. Otherwise he would not have started projects to seek a cure for his kind of injury. You cannot start a project from a point of despair or hoplessness. Too many mistakes can be committed.
He was optimistic that his foundation and research center would eventually find a cure. In fact, even in a wheelchair, he continued to exercise to build body strength in anticipation of eventually being able to stand up and walk.
Because of his foundation and research center, countless others afflicted with spinal cord injury now have hope and can be optimistic of a cure. Of Christopher Reeve, UC Irvine said, “in the years following his injury, Christopher did more to promote research on spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders than any other person before or since.”
Even with restrictive mobility and difficulty in breathing, Christopher Reeve surged on. He continued to be involved in movie-making in front and behind the camera, winning awards along the way. He sat on the Boards of associations and organizations that help the disabled as well as on medical company Boards. He gave interviews and speeches on his advocacy.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do and set out to do them despite his handicap.
Christopher Reeve’s legacy
On October 10, 2004, Reeve died at the age of 52 from cardiac arrest. But his legacy lives on. The research center he co-founded is now one of the leading spinal cord research centers in the world. Many disabled people can now walk again because of the work of his research center.
Christopher Reeve was a superman in more ways than his movie role. We may not be able to do the immense work that Christopher Reeve did in his lifetime. But, as long as we are courageous, optimistic and self-determined, we can be heroes in our own right.
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