Will Reeve was 10 days shy of his third birthday when his father, acclaimed Superman actor Christopher Reeve, was thrown from a horse at a horse show in 1995 and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed and unable to breathe without a ventilator. Christopher Reeve died nine years later in 2004, and Will’s mother, Dana, died just two years later when Will was 13. Now a sports commentator for ESPN and the ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Will Reeve will headline the annual Tidewell Hospice Signature Luncheon Feb. 9. Details about the event can be found here.
You were so young when your dad became paralyzed. What stands out in your memory about those years?
“[My dad’s accident] changed our lives forever. He had been so active, so able, so adventurous. He needed a ventilator to breathe. My mother was such a pillar of strength, compassion and love. She navigated those rough waters, not only for my dad’s sake but for our entire family. She was resolute in her determination to give me the most normal, healthy, productive and happy childhood she could, while also taking care of my dad every day as a wife and partner. To me she was just mom, my dad was just dad, they were my parents.
We had 24-hour caregivers for his physical needs, but my mom was there to care for him mentally and emotionally and spiritually. Every day she did everything possible for us. We’ve applied those guiding principles to the greater public through the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation."
Why is it important for you to talk about caregiving?
“It’s been a great honor and privilege for me to carve out a public role on behalf of my parents and their legacy by representing the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. It’s their tangible and lasting legacy, with direct impact on people’s lives. I speak to all sorts of groups—palliative care, hospitals, hospices, trade groups, grief and bereavement organizations, motivational organizations). I’m no guru, but I know what I’ve experienced. My parents imbued me with a value set that has served me quite well, and I try to share their spirit.”
Tell us about the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and its Paralysis Resource Center.
“It is the first resource for any family dealing with a new spinal cord injury—the place to go for anyone with questions about hospitals, equipment, the millions of questions that come along. My mom’s lasting legacy, above all else, is the quality-of-life grants we give to nonprofit organizations that align with our mission.” [To date, more than $20 million in those grants has been awarded throughout the U.S. and 37 countries.]
What message do you want caregivers to hear?
“The importance you play in the life of the person for whom you are caring cannot be overstated. Caregivers are unsung heroes who give up a lot of their hopes and dreams on behalf of others, whether a family member or close friend or professional capacity. They should know how necessary they are, and should be celebrated and commended for that.
Tell us a little about you. How’s it going at ESPN?
“For as long as I remember I’ve been a sports nut. I grew up playing intramural softball, soccer and ice hockey, but not very well. Sports was the deepest bond my father and I had. I grew up with ESPN always in the house; we jokingly referred to it as the third parent. I realized I would not be on ESPN as an athlete, so I began to aspire to the next best thing, which is talking about sports. I went to Middlebury College, where my mom graduated, and interned at Good Morning America, where I fell in love with making television; I love storytelling and the connections you can make there with an audience. I was hired by ESPN two weeks after I graduated from college when I was 22 and have been here ever since.
“I’m a generalist with no specific beat; I’ve done stories on football, basketball, hockey, running, synchronized ice skating. I’ve done TV, podcasts, written for the ESPN website, and I’m about to debut a national radio show on Feb. 18, from noon to 4 on Sundays.”