My father was Superman.
He also starred in some movies, wearing a cape and tights, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
But, that’s not why he was Superman to me.
To millions around the world, he was Superman for the way he fought tirelessly to discover cures for spinal cord injuries after sustaining one himself by falling off a horse in 1995 and dedicating his life to achieving his dream of a world of empty wheelchairs.
No, to me, my father was Superman because he was my hero: Dad.
I was not yet three years old when he got injured.
Spinal cord research was in its infancy.
There was no phone number for my mom to call to ask someone what to do next.
There were no experts reaching out to suggest the best treatment and medical equipment or to connect us to the right rehabilitation facilities and hospitals.
And there certainly was no promise that an individual living with a spinal cord injury would ever walk again, let alone stand, or regain the secondary functions most of us take for granted.
My parents worked tirelessly, through the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, to make sure that spinal cord research would move beyond the dark space into a realm of light and hope.
That is where we find ourselves today—on the cusp of delivering on my father’s dream.
COURAGE IS CONTAGIOUS
There’s something my father used to say and which I use frequently today to not only honor his legacy, but to imbue a new generation with his timeless spirit: ‘A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.’
For as long as I can remember, I have known many such heroes.
The paralysis community—that global collection of people with spinal cord injuries, their loved ones and caregivers—is full of them.
My father reminded me daily that nothing was impossible as he tackled insurmountable challenges with sheer force of will.
As a child, I remember waking up early to greet my parents and jumpstart the day, often before dawn.
My father would already be awake, going through strenuous, nearly impossible, physical rehabilitation to will himself to walk again.
There was a sign on the wall, ‘For those who said I couldn’t do it, for those who said I shouldn’t do it, for those who said, ‘It’s Impossible, See you at the finish line.’
Those words continue to guide me every day.
I see that same courage in families impacted by paralysis – people whose lives are changed in one second, who muster the strength to persevere, to find a silver lining and go forward.
Some even dedicate their lives and bodies to the research that will bring cures to millions more.
‘Oh, to be a rat,’ my dad used to say.
He was frustrated that promising research wasn’t turning into tangible solutions and that the pace of discovery to delivery could be painstakingly slow.
He was determined to be a catalyst for scientific discovery and was the spark behind many breakthroughs in activity-based therapies and regenerative medicine.
He motivated the scientific community to work harder, better and faster for cures.
My father often said, ‘At first, your dreams seem impossible. Then they seem improbable. Then, when you summon the will, they become inevitable.’
He knew that cures for spinal cord injuries were inevitable.