Child#039;s hero became adult champion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

I was late to work Monday morning because I was having blood sugar issues.

As you'll recall last September I was diagnosed with diabetes.

As I tried to get enough strength to get to work on Monday, I had no time to hear the news or read the Internet.

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So it was with a bit of a shock that I learned of the death of Christopher Reeve.

He will always be remembered for his portrayal of "Superman," and many will say it was the greatest role of his life.

But after a near fatal equestrian accident in Virginia, Reeve found that his greatest role in life was yet unrealized.

He championed the sufferers of spinal cord injuries and he brought to the forefront the importance of stem cell research, an issue that is being hotly debated in this year's presidential race.

Reeve was unlike the man of steel, he wasn't faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a train and he couldn't leap skyscrapers in a single bound.

But the courage and determination Reeve displayed in trying to overcome his paralysis from a 1995 horse-riding accident far surpassed any of the feats of the comic book hero.

To many, Reeve became a real-life Superman, whose heroism, courage simply outshone the hero of my youth.

One of the things that I know from various friends who have suffered spinal cord injuries, it causes you to reinvent your life.

What was once the ordinary is now complicated and the slightest twinge or movement becomes a victory unto itself.

Once he was able, Reeve brought the kind of energy and enthusiasm that made him successful as a film star to an entirely different issue, with huge effect.

Who will forget the commercial from a few years back that caused such an uproar that had Reeve walking onto a stage to receive his award.

I remember looking at the photo and thinking how great it would be for him to walk again and to make one more Superman movie. That was his dream and he vowed to walk once more.

So it is was sadness that I read that he died on Sunday at age 52, of heart failure without realizing his dream of walking again.

With that sadness we have to remember that for the last nine years since his accident, he did not sit back and play the "Poor Me" card.

Instead he worked to regain some feeling and he also established the the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, a non-profit research organization.

He used his name and his fame to raise millions of dollars for research that

would have not only helped himself but many others with spinal cord injuries.

Also, through is work in the post-accident error, Reeve was a hero once again by providing hope and inspiration to other patients and for his work in lobbying Congress and the White House to allow science to conduct stem cell research.

He did all this in the hopes of curing paralysis.

Oddly, there is the chance it could cure other illnesses such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

So you have to wonder which was Reeve's greater role in life.

I like that to think that his work following his accident was simply a continuation of his role as Superman. The fact that Reeve broke his spinal cord proved that it can happen to anyone, even Superman.

So I leave the memory of Superman with the lyrics from Five For Fighting:

"I can't stand to fly

I'm not that naive

Men weren't meant to ride

With clouds between their knees

I'm only a man in a silly red sheet

Digging for kryptonite on this one way street

Only a man in a funny red sheet

Looking for special things inside of me

It's not easy to be me."

Jay Thomas is the managing editor of The Greenville Advocate.

You can reach him via phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or via email at