Bridgmans

Chris and Jennifer Bridgman and the couple's three sons. Chris Bridgman has been without the use of his legs for 11 years – but that hasn’t shaken his confidence that he will walk again.

A dirt bike accident in 2010 left Chris Bridgman mostly paralyzed from the waist down. He was told he would never walk again. He’s determined to prove that prognosis wrong.

Chris and his wife, Jennifer, both raised in Los Altos, are longtime supporters of the Reeve Foundation, which funds research for spinal cord injuries. Like the nonprofit’s founders, the late actors Christopher and Dana Reeve, they have remained steadfastly upbeat in the face of a debilitating condition. And like the Reeves, they want to help others as they work through their own struggles.

The Bridgmans, who received the foundation’s Spirit of Courage Award in 2017, spoke with the Town Crier last week in advance of the foundation’s 2021 Reeve Run & Roll Virtual 5K. The fundraiser is scheduled Sept. 25 (Christopher Reeve’s birthday) to Oct. 3, and will serve in place of an in-person event.

Despite the pandemic and remote participation, last year’s inaugural event drew 900 participants from 50 states and eight countries. This year, the foundation has set an ambitious fundraising goal of $400,000 for spinal cord injury research.

“We’re so fortunate with where we live and our family support, and my job (as a mortgage loan officer),” Chris said. “It’s nice to try and give back. Instead of saying, ‘Find a cure for this problem that I have,’ we’re trying to be proactive.”

It’s not easy – far from it. The Bridgmans, Mountain View residents, must tend to the needs of their three young boys while Chris holds down a job and deals with searing, chronic pain that afflicts many paraplegics.

“It’s much harder than being in a wheelchair. … We have tried everything,” he said. “I’ve been to more pain specialists than I can count.”

But even intense pain is no match for Chris’ strength and determination to live life to its fullest. And love and support is not in short supply at the Bridgman household. The close-knit family enjoys an active lifestyle, full of the outdoor activities Chris has always loved. A family video shows Chris downhill skiing – yes, downhill skiing – as well as hang gliding.

Jennifer referred to Chris as “optimistic, independent and adventurous.”

“With three kids, (people) might think, ‘Oh, that must be so challenging with the wheelchair,’ but it’s quite the opposite,” she said. “The kids and I don’t see the wheelchair, really. The wheelchair has just always been a part of our family. They think there are very few things their dad doesn’t do, in their eyes.”

“Soccer’s a little tough,” Chris quipped.

Perspective also helps. He realizes those with far worse injuries, quadriplegics, for instance, “would give anything to have what I have.” Christopher Reeve, who rose to fame with the 1970s “Superman” films, dealt with injuries far worse and debilitating.

“For him to fight on is an inspiration for me,” Chris said. “The greatest heroism Christopher Reeve showed had nothing to do with tights and a cape.”

Christopher Reeve died in 2004, and Dana died in 2006 from lung cancer.

“I met Chris and Jennifer a decade ago at a Reeve Foundation research presentation,” said Peter Wilderotter, former CEO of the Reeve Foundation. “Chris was newly injured, and they wanted to learn how to navigate this injury, what promise the research held and how they could get involved. Since that moment, they have staunchly carried Dana’s hope and Christopher’s dream of a cure forward.”

Raising awareness

The Bridgmans know they are not in this fight alone. They cite statistics that show one in 50 Americans is living with paralysis, approximately 5.4 million people. September has been designated Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

Progress on spinal cord injuries has been slow.

“The science is so complex and challenging – as someone in a wheelchair, it’s a little bit frustrating that it has taken so long,” Chris said.

The biggest breakthrough has been an epidural stimulation of the spinal cord, with some people able to regain function.

“That’s kind of the thing they’re still pursuing,” he said.

Chris remains confident that he will walk again.

“You’ve got to just hope and move on,” he said.

Jennifer said people interested in participating in the Reeve Run & Roll Virtual 5K have a range of options: Donate to Team Bridgman, share their page on social media or create their own team. Teams are ramping up now. Team Bridgman’s fundraising goal is $25,000.

“The Reeve Run & Roll event aligns directly with our family’s core values of health, connection, community, family, faith and fun,” Jennifer said. “For over 10 years now, the Reeve Foundation has been a constant source of information and hope. Contacts within the organization have become our dear friends, and we consider ourselves honored to be among this courageous community of warriors.”

For more information on the Reeve Foundation, visit christopherreeve.org.

To view the Bridgman family’s fundraising page, visit reeverunroll21.funraise.org/team/team-bridgman.