When a paralyzed Wisconsin man took his first steps in five years in September, the children of Christopher Reeve couldn’t contain their excitement. The medical breakthrough arrived too late for the Superman actor, who died in 2004, but his work to find a cure for spinal cord injuries had finally started to pay off.

“My dad would be thrilled,” daughter Alexandra told Closer at The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Magical Evening Gala. “He was the embodiment of hope. We are seeing hope being translated into results now.”

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Blessed with good looks, athletic prowess, and a passion for theater, Christopher gained worldwide fame playing the Man of Steel in 1978’s Superman and its three sequels. “He always said that it was a real honor to wear the cape and to capture the public’s imagination, and it’s something that he felt he needed to live up to,” says Alexandra, who notes that her father had been a dedicated advocate for the environment and a supporter of the arts. “I think Superman shaped who he was,” adds Will, his youngest son. “He felt he needed to be a force for good in the world.”

It wasn’t always easy. After a 1995 horseback riding accident left Christopher on a ventilator and paralyzed from the neck down, he thought about ending his life, but his love for his wife, Dana, and his three children kept him from wallowing in self-pity. Despite his limitations, he committed himself to being the best father and husband possible.

“We couldn’t do traditional physical activities together, but Dad made a really big effort to sit down and have real conversations with us,” says Will, who was 3 at the time of the accident. “Just having deep focus, one-on-one conversations — dad to kid time — was so meaningful.”

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He also found new purpose in the foundation he created. Since its inception, it has awarded more than $138 million in grants for medical research in the field of paralysis. “Today we are at the precipice of finding a cure,” says Will. “We are making breakthroughs.”

Christopher’s family believes this legacy of hope will continue to aid people who suffer spine injuries for generations. “A hero, in the way that my dad defined it, was as an ordinary individual who found the courage and strength to persevere in spite of overwhelming obstacles,” Will proudly says. “He was that — and also a very good dad.”

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