‘Make the most of every second you can’
Clermont horse lover who battles ALS enjoys one last ride
Clermont horse lover Dave Keeble maintains an upbeat attitude that inspires those around him as he battles the ravages of ALS — though he wasn’t optimistic about riding again.
But a friend hatched a plan to give the 47-year-old England native, who uses a wheelchair because of his limited mobility, one last ride. After he figured out what was going on, Keeble was skeptical and asked Lisa Maloney with a smile, “Have you got a hoist?”
She shot back, “We’ve got strong men.” In an emotional scene in a south Lake County pasture, two men helped a determined Keeble clamber up a mounting block onto a platform 28 inches off the ground. Then they lifted and scooted him onto Honey, a horse Keeble’s wife, Sharon Ward Keeble, described as “a sweetheart.”
Steadying himself on Honey, Dave Keeble displayed the sense of humor he’s clung to since being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in August 2017. The father of three asked his wife, “Will you catch me?” She wouldn’t need to.
As her husband settled into the saddle and others positioned his feet in the stirrups during the Dec. 7 surprise, he looked down
at his mount on a cool sunny day and said softly to Honey, “You’re beautiful.”
Then it was time for a springy walk around the pasture 35 miles west of downtown Orlando with friends guiding Honey as Keeble’s youngest daughter, Faith, 12, rode alongside him on a horse named Trouble.
Keeble — who ironically took the “ice bucket challenge” to raise awareness about ALS in 2014, before he really knew much about the disease — was living up to his motto, “Live Fast, Take Chances.”
That’s the name of a Facebook page about the lives of “an ordinary British family living in America whose world was turned upside down when one parent was diagnosed with ALS.”
Created in October, the page chronicles Keeble’s journey and is meant to raise awareness about the always-fatal progressive neurodegenerative disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It’s also about living life in the moment — and to its fullest.
“I truly believe that no matter what life throws in your path that you’ve gotta make the best of it,” said Keeble, who before he was stricken with ALS had a growing maintenance and landscape business. “We all have our troubles, but once you accept them there’s no real need to let them destroy your future.
“Make the most of every second you can. Enjoy everything around you. It’s beautiful, and there’s so much to see and enjoy.”
Keeble plans to see and do all he can in whatever time he has left.
According to the ALS Association, the disease affects as many as 30,000 Americans, who live on average two to five years after they’re diagnosed, though many survive five years or more.
Keeble’s family wants him around as long as possible. To that end, his wife launched a Change.org petition calling on President Donald Trump and the Food and Drug Administration to expedite the clinical trials process for a stem-cell therapy called NurOwn, which she said has reported impressive improvements in health and muscle function.
“I’m always looking for something that might be a better treatment,” said Sharon Keeble, 48, an author and journalist who writes for national women’s magazines in England and around the globe.
The brutal disease has been equally traumatic on the couple’s family, which includes the Keebles’ two other daughters, 20-year-old Emily and 18-year-old Molly, and their dogs Alfie, Kai and Beau.
Yet Dave Keeble refuses to wallow in self pity.
“I’m not gonna sit in the corner and cry about it,” he said.
Still, he added wryly, “Never take for granted scratching an itch on your butt.”
That he has to rely on others for help is frustrating, he said.
Keeble, for instance, no longer can feed or dress himself.
The family handles those chores. Medical bills add more stress on the family surviving on Sharon Keeble’s earnings.
They’re grateful to have insurance through the Affordable Care Act but that doesn’t cover everything.
A friend started a GoFundMe page aimed at raising $50,000 “so that the burden of the astronomical costs can be eased,” including converting their bathroom so Sharon Keeble can bathe her husband.
The couple appreciate the support of friends such as Maloney, who had the idea of getting Dave Keeble on a horse again.
“What have you done, Lisa?” Keeble asked in deadpan when his wife pulled up to Maloney’s home.
The sight of several cars — people who showed up to help or cheer him on — told him something was up. One of those on hand, Christy Spencer, 67, of Davenport called Keeble a “fantastic rider.”
“It’s so hard to see him like this because he was so outgoing, constantly doing things,” she said.
Keeble said he has been fond of horses since he was 10 or 11 growing up in England, when he received free riding lessons in exchange for helping to load hay at a stable.
He trained his kids and others how to ride when he lived in England and later in Central Florida, where the family moved in 2005.
“I always had a connection,” he said. “Once you get that connection you never lose it.”
Molly Keeble has seen it: “When he’s with horses he’s in his complete whole world,” she said.
But he hasn’t been on a horse in about four years, his wife said.
“He said ‘I know I’m never going to get on a horse anymore,’” Sharon Keeble said.
Then Maloney, 54, who along with her husband, Brian, 60, also are horse enthusiasts, cooked up a ruse about the Keebles coming over to watch Faith ride.
Instead, people watched him ride.
After riding Honey for about 20 minutes, friends helped him off the horse. He fed Honey treats and nuzzled quietly with the mare, savoring the experience.
Later in the day, Keeble had more fun when Chris Porter, 48, of Clermont, one of his spotters during the horse ride, treated him to a seaplane ride over south Lake County.
“How many people does it take to get Dave in a seaplane without him falling?!” Sharon Keeble wrote on Facebook. “Turns out it takes four strong guys and a lot of manipulation but they did it!”
Dave Keeble — who last summer traveled with his family on a bucket-list trip out West that included Yellowstone National Park intends to keep seeing and trying new things.
“I’ve got a beautiful wife and three beautiful daughters and I owe it to them to keep going for as long as I can,” said Keeble, in front of the family’s Christmas tree. “You can’t put a price on memories.”
Such as those made when he rode around the pasture on Honey.
His wife summed up the moment on Facebook.
“Seeing that smile on his face,” she wrote, “was the best Christmas present.”
Horse lover Dave Keeble, 47, who is battling ALS, smiles after being lifted onto a horse for a ride around a south Lake County pasture.
Dave Keeble, 47, who is battling ALS, feeds treats to a horse named Honey that he rode on Dec. 7. With him is his wife, Sharon Ward Keeble.