"Mom and dad will be there with you every step of the way": How Christopher Reeve's son Will turned tragedy into a triumph of the spirit
Will Reeve opens up about his parents' death and how he overcame adversity to become a well-recognized sports journalist
Will Reeve is now a recognized Sportscenter broadcaster and ESPN contributor but his journey getting there is an inspirational one. Son of Hollywood superstar Christopher Reeve — best known for his portrayal of DC Comics' Superman — and actress and singer Dana Reeve, Will had to overcome incredible adversity at a tender age to reach where he is now.
It can all be traced back to May 27, 1995, when his father was left a quadriplegic after being thrown off a horse during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Virginia, and was confined to using a wheelchair and a ventilator for the rest of his life.
He would go on to spend the next nine years using his name to lobby on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries and for advancements in human embryonic stem cell research, founding the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.
By 2004, he had survived several serious infections, recovering from three that supposedly could have been fatal.
But his luck would eventually run out. On October 9 of that year, he went into cardiac arrest after receiving an antibiotic for an infection, fell into a coma, and passed away 18 hours later. He was 52-years-old.
A 12-year-old Will, already denied the pleasure of engaging in day-to-day activities with his father, now faced the prospect of growing up without one at all. Fate would kick him once again while he was down. Less than a year later, his mother Dana was diagnosed with lung cancer; this despite the fact that she had never smoked cigarettes. Eleven days before her 45th birthday on March 17, she passed away. And just like that, Will was left orphaned.
But instead of letting the circumstances get to him, he soldiered on, carving out a successful career for himself and even finding himself named as one of the top 50 bachelors by Town and Country Magazine in 2016 alongside men like Elon Musk and Zappos co-founder Tony Hsieh.
Now 26-years-old, Will discussed how he overcame such tremendous grief at such a young age, his penchant for writing and sports journalism, and his pivotal role in continuing his parents' work at their disability foundation in an all-revealing letter that he penned to his 13-year-old self.
He expresses how his parents' deaths were the lowest points of his life. How he was terrified and confused and sad but that he saw a glimmer of hope in the desperate situation because there was nowhere to go but up, recalling some of the more pleasant times and what it was like to grow up with "the most famous paralyzed person on the planet."
One line reads: "You will always remember the good stuff. Dad in the driveway teaching you how to ride a bike just by telling you what to do, you trusting him so fully that you just do it."
Despite his ailment and being unable to physically help, the actor had always put his son first. Always the ever-present supportive pillar, his last ever reported public appearance aptly happened to be a hockey game where Will was playing.
"How lucky are you that in her final moments, when she finally had to accept that she was dying, Mom knew where to put you? She signed you over to the Pucci's, your next-door neighbors, your second family and now your adoptive family. You'll move in with them and love them as fiercely and fully as they love you," he wrote, addressing how he had to live with his childhood friend and neighbor in Bedford, New York, after his parents' deaths.
The interest in sports journalism stemmed from his relationship with his father. "We shared a very deep bond in general, but sports was definitely a major component of our family bond," he admitted. He followed up on that dream by graduating from the Middlebury College in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and American literature.
Will also writes about his current role at one of the biggest sports broadcasters in the country. "You love to write and it will be essential at your dream job, reporting and anchoring at ESPN, where you promised mom and dad you would work one day. When you get that call, you'll want to call them and tell them the great news and of course, you can't, but you know that they already know."
The last paragraph, in particular, stands out the most, as much for its poignancy as it does for its honesty.
"I want you to know that we do not have all of this figured out. But you know that in the years ahead, you will face no obstacle greater than the one you are starting to overcome right now, and no matter which way your journey leads, mom and dad will be there with you every step of the way. How lucky are you?"