A year ago, I compiled a list of my personal heroes. Near the top of that list was Christopher Reeve, a man I believe was Superman in more ways than one.
Let me explain. Growing up, I loved the Superman movies. They weren't on par with Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. Christopher Reeve was the perfect actor for the part. He was able to play both the Boy Scout all-American role of Superman as well as the bumbling nerdy reporter Clark Kent, and he played both parts perfectly.
I think everyone who saw those movies will always see Christopher Reeve in the Superman role. But to me, he didn't truly become Superman until after a horse riding accident left him paralyzed. A lot of people who suffer paralysis stop living, but Christopher Reeve seemed to see paralysis as a challenge, a challenge he intended to win. Just like Superman, he battled the odds and turned the remainder of his life into a positive journey for good. He founded the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, an organization dedicated to paralysis research. He was also a strong advocate of stem cell research, a field that many believe is the key to future health and medical breakthroughs.
In the spring of 2003, Dr. Robert Grossfeld taught an honors course at NCSU titled "Spinal Cord Regeneration." The highlight of that course was a teleconference call with Christopher Reeve. Although I'm no longer a student, I'm a webmaster at NCSU and was fortunate enough to be invited to the teleconference.
The call was amazing. Reeve talked with the students for over an hour, answering every question that was thrown at him with patient, well thought out answers that came from the heart. One of the more touching moments for me as a father was when Reeve talked about his son Will. I can't remember the exact words, but Reeve said that when it comes time to choose whether to unhook himself from a machine or watch his son, Will, play baseball, it's always an easy choice--he always chooses Will. The way that Reeve said it brought tears to everyone's eyes.
I think we all left the room that day humbled. It's not every day that you get to be in the presence of someone like Reeve, someone who has faced incredible tragedy and yet has overcome that tragedy to lead a positive and influential life. And it's definitely not every day that you get to be in the presence of a true hero.
Goodbye Superman. You will be missed.