"To me, Mom and Dad were the people who forced me to eat broccoli and to turn the TV off to do my homework," the 17-year-old told a rapt audience at the annual gala for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Monday night. "I never consciously viewed them as inspirations then, but their heroic efforts shaped who I am today and who I hope to become tomorrow"
Though Will was only 2 years old when his father was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident, he recalled how his dad refused to let his paralysis define him – and how both parents worked hard before their deaths to maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives.
"Some of my fondest memories of our family take place in our driveway, where I'm running around playing one sport or another, Dad's watching me with a smile on his face the size of Texas, and Mom has her hands around Dad's shoulders, letting go only to play fetch with our tennis ball-addict white Lab.
"If I told you that story, and you knew nothing about me or my parents, I think it's safe to say that you would have no clue that I was describing a family dealing with paralysis. That is the most important thing that a family struggling with a member's disability can do: try to make life as normal as possible," he said.
Will and his brother Matthew Reeve, 29, and sister Alexandra Reeve Givens, 25, Christopher Reeve's children from a previous marriage, all continue to support the work of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which is working to find a cure for paralysis while also trying to improve the lives of the 1.25 million Americans who are living with spinal cord injuries.