Chris Reeve’s Living Room

Posted by Tim Gilmer in Life After Paralysis on March 16, 2021 # Christopher and Dana, Lifestyle

By guest blogger Tim Gilmer

Welcome! Although this is my first blog for the Reeve Foundation, I’ve been a wheelchair user for over 55 years, paralyzed from the waist down. During that time I have had three careers, first as a writing instructor for college freshmen and sophomores, later as an organic farmer with hand-controlled tractors, and from 2000 to 2018 as editor of New Mobility magazine, an excellent resource for active wheelchair users. I have a great many stories to tell, many lessons and tips to share, and hopefully some surprises that will liven things up.

I met Chris Reeve in November of 2002 after Random House contacted me for a possible interview with him. I was flown to New York, where I rented a hand-controlled minivan and drove to his Pound Ridge estate a few hours north of New York City. A friendly woman with red hair came to the parking area to welcome me. She told me I could roam at will and go wherever I wanted.Tim and family

I started with his exercise gym. There I met Will, his young son, who was curious to see the visitor in a wheelchair. As a journalist, I was not supposed to talk to him, a rule that Dana and Chris enforced to protect Will’s privacy, but Will wanted to talk. I won’t share his exact words, but I could see that he loved and respected his dad and was proud of all he had accomplished since his 1995 paralysis. Will often came to the gym to exercise alongside his dad. It was in this gym that Chris had made remarkable gains in his rehab program designed by Doctor John McDonald, who’s forward-thinking has no doubt pushed hundreds of SCI survivors to functional recoveries they never thought possible.

I left the gym and waited in the living room, where my interview with Chris would happen. The photos on the walls depicted his extraordinarily active life, almost all of which lay in the past. Now, seven years since his injury, he was totally immersed in making a new life, one that would benefit not only himself, but tens of thousands of others with paralysis. It was an intensely challenging time for him and his family. The thought of it brought me back to my own difficult transition in the early days of my paralysis.

I was injured in a plane crash at 20, when I had dreams of playing major league baseball. The pilot, a good friend, was killed. I was fortunate that my SCI was at the T11 level, but in 1965 I felt like an alien in a culture that was not made for wheelchair users. But what I had to overcome was nothing like what Chris Reeve had to overcome, not only because of his quadriplegia, but because of the huge weight of responsibility he carried for all of us. Encouraged by Wise Young, a renowned SCI researcher then as now, and his wife Dana, he unselfishly took on that added weight, a new career in itself, in addition to resurrecting his career in entertainment.

I spent three hours with him in his living room, way more than I had been promised by his staff. He was polite, generous, friendly, hospitable, and very open in answering all of my questions. He would have continued for longer, but I was the one who had to cut our time short. I had tickets to see the Yankees for my first trip ever to NYC. He laughed when I apologized, being a Yankees fan himself.

What struck me that day was the critical importance of cultivating a mindset of hope in the difficult days of transitioning and adapting to a new life. I believe, at the age of 76, that adapting is a continual process, and that it demands extraordinary perseverance and repeated summoning of inner resilience that most of us don’t even know we have — until faced with an impossible challenge. In this blog I hope to share much of what I have learned about aging, dealing with complications from paralysis (skin breakdowns, infections, pain), everyday coping and advocacy. I hope you will join me. If you have a preferred topic, please drop me a line at [email protected].

For more on Christopher Reeve’s life and what we talked about the day I interviewed him, see: https://www.newmobility.com/2002/11/the-missionary...:

To see my latest project, Wheels on Campus — a guide to wheelchair-friendly colleges — visit: www.newmobility.com/wheels-on-campus.

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years. He has published upwards of 100 articles, 200 columns, occasional movie reviews and essays. He and Sam, his wife and companion of 47 years, also own and operate an organic farm south of Portland, where they live with their daughter and son-in-law, four grandsons, and a resident barn owl.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.