An Oct. 12 Metro article should have said that the $150,000 check that BET co-founder Sheila Johnson presented to Christopher Reeve for his paralysis foundation came from the Washington International Horse Show. (Published 10/15/04)
Coleen Keenan-Hersson recalls that she was busy that day in 1995 trying to keep up with the thousands of details that go into putting on an equestrian competition.
Still, she made sure she was among the throngs of spectators who gathered to watch actor Christopher Reeve mount his horse and set off on the cross-country course in Culpeper. That was the last time Reeve would walk or ride or even breathe without assistance, just before he fell from his horse over the third jump and suffered a paralyzing injury.
Keenan-Hersson closely followed Reeve's fight for recovery, watching every television special, reading every article, cheering every small improvement in his health as well as his worldwide advocacy for stem cell research -- and news of his death Sunday at 52 was hard for her to hear.
"I remember that day [at the competition] everyone was saying, 'Superman is here,' " recalled Keenan-Hersson, vice president of eventing for the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association. "He certainly turned out to be a Superman, didn't he? Anyone who was at the event that day will carry a piece of Christopher Reeve with them forever," she said.
Riders and other admirers in Virginia's hunt country said Reeve's death was particularly sad after he had worked so hard to overcome a cataclysmic injury and made such progress. Reeve regained limited motion that he credited to a strenuous rehabilitative exercise regimen and could breathe without his ventilator for short stretches of time.
Olympian equestrian John Williams of Middleburg got to know Reeve about two years before the actor's accident, when Reeve responded to an ad Williams placed to sell one of his horses. He didn't buy the animal. Instead he sent Williams one of his own horses to ride in competition and then to put up for sale.
"It's a sad day for many people and for the horse people that may have known him," Williams said in a telephone interview. "It's a sad day to know this happened because of an equestrian accident he had many years ago."
Despite the accident on May 27, 1995, Reeve told friends and interviewers that he "loved" the horse, whose registered name was Eastern Express and whose "barn name" was Buck. In a 2002 interview with Larry King, Reeve said Buck, who was up for sale, had been sent to live with a trainer in New England "because I won't be riding any time right away, but he's under the best of care."
John A. Jane, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery for the University of Virginia Health System, treated Reeve in Charlottesville immediately after his injury, and they stayed in touch over the years.
Jane said he learned by phone of Reeve's death, shocked awake early yesterday by television producers working on the story for a morning show.
"I had such admiration for him and everything he's done" Jane said. "He changed the whole face of research into spinal cord injury. He has been an inspiration like no one else has ever been in terms of changing the way things are done."
Jane said he last spoke to Reeve on the phone two years ago in September on the actor's 50th birthday. He spent part of yesterday writing a letter to Reeve's wife, Dana, expressing his admiration and sorrow.
"I've not met a man like him for a long time," he said.
Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and a Middleburg resident, met Reeve last year when she presented him with a check for $150,000 to support his paralysis foundation. A short time later, she was asked to sit on the foundation board.
Yesterday, Johnson characterized Reeve as one of the most remarkable men she'd ever met. Rather than accept defeat, she said, he embarked on a new passion, becoming the nation's most vocal and visible advocate for stem cell research, where he believed the cure for spinal cord injuries will be found.
"He knew what the purpose of his life was going to be," Johnson said. "It was to emphasize the importance of stem cell research and the hope for a cure."
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.