Inspired by a Broadway Legend

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you have stopped and said to yourself, “How did this happen to me? How did I get so lucky?” One of those moments for me was last April, when I was recognized for my volunteer efforts for a local theater. After friends rose to say nice things, a video played, with congratulations and “love, love, love” from Broadway legend Chita Rivera!

Broadway sign


I first met Chita in 2003, when I worked with her at the Kennedy Center Honors. It was a blast, and we had an ongoing friendship ever since.

We worked together again in 2010, and shared time in Washington and New York when schedules allowed. One unforgettable evening in 2013, my husband and I attended her performance in Provincetown, MA and then went out with her for cocktails and pizza. We stayed in touch until her death in January, one week after her 91st birthday.

Chita was an extraordinary dancer, singer, and actor. She starred in the Original Broadway production of “West Side Story” in 1957, and the rest is theater history: 18 Broadway shows, 10 Tony Award nominations, winning two times. In addition to Anita in “West Side Story”, she created such iconic roles as Rosie in “Bye Bye Birdie”, Velma Kelly in “Chicago”, and the title role in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”.

When she passed away, accolades and tributes poured in from countless people to whom she was a friend and a role model, not only for her dedication to her craft, but for the way she gave of herself, her talents, and her love. Two words came up over and over again: “inspiration” and “heart”. It was clear that I was only one of many who adored her and had been inspired by her.

So…how was I so lucky as to count her as a friend? In one of life’s odd happenstances, our bond grew deeper because of my 2014 spinal cord injury, as we shared experiences in injury and rehab.

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In 1986, a taxi collided with Chita’s car in Manhattan, shattering her left leg in a dozen places. She underwent two surgeries, received 18 screws and plates to reconnect her bones, and endured months of rehabilitation. For many dancers, the injuries might have been career-ending, but in only a year she began dancing again and went on to win more awards and accolades for her performances.

After my injury, I wrote to Chita to let her know that her hard work and determination were an inspiration to me. I told myself many times: if she could make the comeback she did, I could recover from my injury.

A few years ago, I wrote to update her on my progress, and tell her again how much she had helped my emotional and physical recovery. To my surprise, she called me to say how proud of me she was. “Your letter made me feel beautiful”, she said, then quickly turned the conversation to my recovery. “How are you feeling?” As the call went on, Chita said “I am inspired by you! We are an inspiration to each other. We all have to help each other.”

And there it was. The truth that we all need inspiration, and that we can all be the inspiration others need.

I knew she had been an inspiration to me, but Chita taught me: when we share our successes, our drive and our recovery with others, we can all be someone’s inspiration.

Not every inspiration is famous or has received awards. Yours may be the person in your gym, or the neighbor’s kid down the street who illustrates drive and hard work. But allow yourself to be inspired and pay it forward. Be the inspiration someone else needs now. You will be amazed at how lucky you will feel. Chita, you will always be my friend and my inspiration.

About the Author - Howard Menaker

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Howard Menaker

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.