The words poured out of Will Reeve on Thursday.
"Tonight's final award recipient is brave," he said. "She is courageous. She's funny and smart and warm and generous and happy. And she is astounding. Her name is Denna Laing."
Reeve, the son of Christopher and Dana Reeve, spoke about Laing at Cipriani Wall Street in New York before she was presented with the Dana Reeve Hope Award at a gala benefitting the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis.
Laing, a member of the National Women's Hockey League's Boston Pride, sustained a spinal cord injury on Dec. 31 at Gillette Stadium while playing in the inaugural Outdoor Women's Classic.
Since her injury, Laing has been an inspiration to those inside and outside of the spinal cord injury community, which led to the decision to honor her with the award.
"It's honestly incredible," she said then. "When they told me about it [during the summer], my mom started crying. We were all pretty speechless. This whole experience has been such a whirlwind. People seem to really respond to my positivity and energy, so I just every day try to make sure I'm continuing that, proving to people that things can get better, I can be better. That they can be better too."
Video: Denna Laing receives Dana Reeve Hope Award
An emotional Laing spoke Thursday about her journey, as well as about how the Reeve Foundation stepped in almost immediately, along with the NHL and the Boston Bruins, to help her feel she would not be alone in her recovery.
"To the foundation for being the first people, in collaboration with the NHL, to provide the support and the resources my family and I needed, and for pushing every day to not only better my life and the millions of people with spinal cord injuries, but to achieve Christopher Reeve's dream of a world without wheelchairs," said Laing, who was presented with the award by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Bruins president Cam Neely.
"Knowing that dream is closer than ever because of the cutting edge research supported by the Reeve Foundation inspires me every day, as I do exactly what I told myself before that last shift: 'All right Denna, you've got to pick it up, you've got to hustle, you've got to work your hardest.'
"They say success is inevitable when preparation meets opportunity. The Reeve Foundation is continuing its work to create the opportunity and I promise you all that when that day comes, I will have done the preparation."
It was that spirit that led Will Reeve and the foundation to honor Laing in the first place. It was that commitment and inspiration that made her the right person to receive the Dana Reeve Hope Award. She is, as Reeve said, "someone who will not let her situation define her, who will not let the odds be stacked against her. She is someone who will do whatever is necessary not only to try to get better and one day walk again, but also to live a full and enriched life every day and not take anything for granted."
Laing, Reeve said, is someone who has something to teach everyone, inside the community and out. She is one of the faces of spinal cord injury.
"Anyone who's spent any amount of time with Denna knows how special she is right away," Reeve said. "She is an incredible person. She's an incredible fighter. She's an incredible advocate, for herself and for people with spinal cord injuries. And we try to honor people that … embody the spirit of the people after whom the awards are named, in this case my mom, Dana Reeve.
"It was the hope award. And I think Denna is representative of the qualities my mom had, which were commitment and love and passion and hope. Denna is the embodiment of hope."
In her speech, Laing echoed that theme.
"I did not know [Dana Reeve], but everything I have been told and read about her tells me that she was kind, that she was strong, and that she, despite the odds, wholeheartedly believed that she was going to beat her illness.
"And that's exactly what you need to be able to hope: You need to believe in yourself. You need to be able to envision a future that is undoubtedly better than today. And you need to see yourself not only in that future but belonging there."