“A Hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” -Christopher Reeve
Christopher Reeve, an American actor, writer and director was widely known for playing the role of Superman in the 1978 film, Superman. He also starred in the three Superman sequels. However, on May 27th1995, he became paralyzed after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition. His injuries left him needing the support of a portable ventilator and motorized wheelchair until his death in 2004 at the age of 52.
Did you know that Christopher got involved with horseback riding in 1985 after learning to ride for a role in a film? At first, he was allergic to horses and had to take antihistamines just to be around them. Later, he broke three ribs in a riding accident. Yet his passion for horses was so strong he continued taking lessons, working with a trainer and growing his skills as an equestrian. On the day of his accident that left him paralyzed, he was competing in eventing which is an equestrian event where a horse and rider must compete against other competitors in three disciplines; dressage, cross-country and show jumping. He had just finished fourth out of 27 in dressage. Christopher was about to compete in the next discipline, but was concerned about two of the jumps, but wasn’t very worried about a 3-foot jump that was very routine for his horse. When his horse approached that fence, he quickly stopped causing Christopher to get tangled in the reins and fall from his horse. He landed head-first on the other side of the fence.
I share the story of Christopher’s accident for a couple of reasons. First, because I live and breathe horses. Even knowing the potential risk, I continue to take lessons and spend time with my horse as much as I can. I’ve even been asked, “Why do you keep taking lessons and ride so much if you don’t compete? Haven’t you been riding for most of your life? What else is there to learn?” The answer in short is, “Everything”. There is always something new to learn and the only way to grow is to keep practicing. Secondly, I think Christopher’s story perfectly illustrates the Eden Alternative domain of well-being; growth. Growth is all about developing, enriching, expanding, and evolving. In the Superman movies, it was clear that Christopher had great physique. He had to exercise, eat right and be quite disciplined to maintain. As an evolving equestrian, he had to learn and develop new skills and abilities that were unique. And, he had to also grow his relationship with his horse to be able to do the things they needed to do as a team.
Christopher could have given up after his accident. In addition to the ventilator and the wheelchair, he required assistance and support from those around him. It appeared that the man who was once Superman was now living with frailty. Yet, Christopher survived surgery and extensive rehabilitation and continued to grow more new skills. He went on to become a champion for people living with spinal cord injuries and lobbied for stem cell research. He also continued to perfect his skills as an actor and as a writer. If he had focused on his own decline and different ability due to his accident, we might never have had Christopher’s legacy of fighting for research or seen him appear in movies and TV episodes as an actor who lives with different abilities.
Never give up on your pursuit to learn and to grow. Because, when we do; we begin to decline both physically and spiritually. Our well-being and the well-being of those around us is dependent on having opportunities to learn new things and develop new skills even when we face the toughest obstacles. Over the past few weeks, I’ve absolutely loved seeing the pictures and videos from Elders, Stakeholders, family members, and volunteers who are participating in Signature’s Super Summer shared on social media. There is so much creativity and growth to celebrate! Keep on Growing! #SignatureSummer
Ryan Myracle, Culture Change Resources Coordinator, Signature HealthCARE