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Excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Still Me

by Christopher Reeve

Still Me by Christopher Reeve X
Still Me by Christopher Reeve
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  • First Published:
    May 1998, 324 pages

    Jun 1999, 255 pages


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The warm-up went fine. I left the starting box at exactly 3:01. The times are always that precise; another rider goes every two minutes. We made a nice strong start. Witnesses said that Buck was absolutely willing and ready. First jump, no problem. The second jump was a medium-size log pile. No problem. Then we came to the zigzag. The fence judge's report says I was going fast, not excessively fast but moving right along.

Apparently Buck started to jump the fence, but all of a sudden he just put on the brakes. No warning, no hesitation, no sense of anything wrong. The judge reported that there was nothing to suggest Buck was worried about the fence. He just stopped. It was what riders call a dirty stop; it occurs without warning. Someone said that a rabbit ran out and spooked Buck. Someone said it could have been shadows.

When I went over I took the bridle, the bit, the reins, everything off Buck's face. I landed right on my head because my hands were entangled in the bridle and I couldn't get an arm free to break my fall. I flipped over landing on the other side of the fence. My helmet prevented any brain damage, but the impact of the landing broke my first and second vertebrae. This is called a hangman's injury because it's the kind of break that happens when the trapdoor opens and the noose snaps tight. It was as if I'd been hanged, cut down, and then sent to a hospital. I was heard to say, "I can't breathe," and that was it.

Buck probably ducked his head right after he stopped. This often happens; the horse puts his head down because the rider is coming forward and he wants to get away from the weight. As you go over a jump you're supposed to stay in the center of the horse-in fact you should always be in the center of your horse-but if you're both committed to the jump and he suddenly refuses, it's very hard to stop your forward momentum, especially if you're well off his back the way you're supposed to be when you go cross-country.

And in order to protect Buck's back, I was actually riding with my stirrups a little higher than usual. My hands probably got caught in the bridle because I was making every effort to stay on. If you fall off during your cross-country ride, you lose sixty points and have no chance of placing in the competition. If my hands had been free, my guess is that I would have broken a wrist. Or I would have just rolled over, gotten up, cursed quietly to myself, and hopped back on. Instead I came straight down on the top rail of the jump, hyperextended my neck, and slumped down in a heap. Head first, six feet, four inches and 215 pounds of me straight down on the rail. Within seconds I was paralyzed
and not breathing.

In many other sports it's essential to be light on your feet. In tennis you can't be flat-footed and move effectively around the court. In skiing your weight is forward, reaching down the fall line. I remember when I was first learning to ski someone told me to try to curl my toes upward inside my boots because that forces your knees and weight forward. If you try to pull away from the mountain, if you raise your shoulders or take your weight off your downhill ski, you're going to slide and fall. The important thing is
to stay forward.

Yet in riding, if you get too far forward before the horse leaves the ground you're likely to get into trouble. And that may have been what happened to me over that fence. As you go over a jump, your heels have to be thrust down and your butt should be reaching backwards to keep you in the center of the horse. This position is the opposite of what comes naturally. You have to train yourself to keep your heels down and stay in the middle. "On your toes" in riding invites disaster.

For more than a year I wondered if my injury was purely an accident, a freakish event, or if I was responsible for what happened to me. Buck had never stopped on a cross-country course before, so what caused him to refuse this easy fence that he could probably have walked over? Rabbit or no rabbit, shadows or no shadows, I think I may have done something to cause the accident, and I have to take responsibility for it.

Use of this excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Christopher Reeve. All rights reserved

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