He was "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." He was the world’s greatest superhero. When Christopher Reeve was picked to play this role in films in 1977, audiences across the country cheered with approval. Like Superman, Christopher was dashing, handsome, and strong. Like Superman, he seemed nearly invincible. He skied, sailed, flew planes, went scuba diving, rode horses, played tennis——and did it all with skill and ease. No one could imagine Christopher Reeve any other way.
All that changed on May 27, 1995. Christopher was in Virginia with his wife, Dana Morosini, and their young son, Will. He had entered a three-day horse riding competition there. His horse, Eastern Express, appeared to be in fine shape. The 42-year-old Christopher looked equally fit and relaxed.
The competition was going well for Christopher. He wasn't in the first place, but he wasn't in the last, either. On his third obstacle in a two-mile jumping event, however, the communication between horse and rider broke down somehow. Without warning, Eastern Express stopped short, but Christopher kept going. He pitched forward over the horse's head, landing on his own head——not moving, not even breathing.
Christopher had broken his spinal cord near the base of his skull, resulting in paralysis from the neck down. He could not speak. He could not even breathe on his own. At the time, doctors gave him only a 50-50 chance of surviving at all.
Despair filled Christopher Reeve's heart. He thought perhaps it would be best if he simply gave up. Dying seemed like the easiest and least painful thing to do. He thought it might be best for his family, too. Then he saw his wife Dana standing next to him, saying, "You're still you, and I love you."
From that moment on, Christopher thought only about living. Gathering his courage, he began to fight for his life. A few days later, Christopher underwent an operation that helped restore some feeling to his upper body. Still, doctors emphasized his limitations. He would never walk again. He would never even breathe again without the aid of a respirator.
Christopher set out to prove the doctors wrong. First of all, he wanted to breathe on his own. Five months after the accident, he asked to be taken off the respirator. He managed just 10 feeble breaths before being reconnected to the breathing tube. Refusing to be discouraged, Christopher took a few more breaths the next day. By the fourth day, he was able to breathe seven minutes without assistance. After three months, he could sustain himself for 90 minutes at a time. By the end of 1995, he was able to go home.
Soon after that, Christopher felt ready to face the world again. He had a message to spread. He wanted to tell people that no matter what challenges they faced, they shouldn't give up. Christopher began to make public appearances. He gave a motivational speech in Toronto. He spoke at a Boston University graduation. Wherever Christopher appeared, his speeches met with standing ovations and many teary faces.
Christopher also went back to work. Clearly he couldn't play the roles he'd played in the past. Instead he turned to directing. His first film, In the Gloaming, proved he had not lost his creative spark.
Despite his brave attitude, Christopher has had his share of "down" times. In the year following his accident, he had problems with blood clots. Later, he developed pneumonia. One day while doing physical therapy, he fell to the floor and broke his arm.
Every day he struggled with the reality of his condition. "In the morning, I need 20 minutes to cry," he told a reporter. After nighttime dreams of running and playing with his son, he needed the 20 minutes "to wake up and make that shift..."
But after the tears, Christopher always whispered, "And now, forward!" With those words, Christopher Reeve proved that although he had lost control of his body, he still had his courage, his spirit, and his inner strength. In that sense, he still was,and always would be Superman!