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Having a Field Day : Christopher Reeve Polo Match Raises About $40,000 to Research a Cure for Paralysis

July 23, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD

More than 300 guests turned out for the first Christopher Reeve Celebrity Polo Classic, bringing attention and funds for spinal-cord research.

Joan Irvine Smith staged the polo match and luncheon at the Oaks, her private equestrian facility in San Juan Capistrano, as a benefit for the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at UC Irvine.

The $200-per-person benefit was expected to net about $40,000 for the new research center, which will be dedicated to finding a cure for paralysis.

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First, They Shopped

It made a pretty picture: Women in billowy hats and men in blazers gathered at the Oaks' Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Academy and Polo Field, surrounded by hills dotted with oaks and sycamores.

At a wine reception, guests were treated to jazz and informal modeling by Mondi. They could also shop at makeshift boutiques featuring jewelry by event sponsor Piaget, fashions from Mondi, Revo sunglasses. Or they could pick up a new Mercedes- Benz--several were parked on the grounds. The luncheon took place in a large tent overlooking the polo field, tables draped in white and decorated with fresh flowers. The Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach prepared the fare, including a chilled cucumber soup, filet mignon and grilled chicken. After lunch, guests watched a short video of actor Reeve, who thanked them for attending.

"Your attendance at the Polo Classic makes a huge difference to anyone who has suffered a spinal cord injury," Reeve said, who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident last year.

The crowd later cheered as Doug Sheehan, who plays Joe Kelly on the daytime TV

drama "General Hospital," joined Steve Flores, William Devane, actor Steve Bond, Tom Goodspeed and other professional and celebrity polo players as they engaged in the match staged by Polo America. The game ended in a tie.

"This the best polo field I've ever seen," said Rob Walton, a pro player who is paralyzed and suggested the idea of a polo benefit to Smith.

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A New Goal

As a fellow horse lover, Smith has found a kindred spirit and a cause in Christopher Reeve.

"I'd been looking for something to get involved in, and I can feel a real compatibility" with Reeve and the research center, she said. "I've had a couple of horse falls and car accidents, and I've walked away. [An injury] could happen to anyone."

Reeve's accident has raised public awareness of spinal-cord injuries.

"Reeve has marvelous charisma and the ability to really touch people," Smith said. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here."

This was the first benefit for the center, and Irvine plans to make the polo match an annual event. Proceeds from the Oaks Classic equestrian competition, to be held this fall, will also go to the center. Reeve is expected to attend.

Irvine announced that contributions from her, the Roosevelt Foundation and private donors have allowed UCI to grant an endowed chair to hire a director for the Reeve-Irvine center.

"We'll search the country for a top researcher to come in and head the center," said Jerry Mandel, vice chancellor of University Advancement at UCI.

All proceeds from the benefits will be used for research to assist people who have spinal-cord injuries to recover function.

"I believe, in our lifetime, we'll see the beginning of their recovery," Mandel said.

Among the guests were: singer Juice Newton, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Tom and Marilyn Nielsen, Jim and Madeline Swinden, Tom and Mary Cesario, Patti Edwards, Cerise Feeley, Pilar Wayne, Terry Lee Goldfarb and Marion and Lula Halfacre.

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