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Hope Therapy bringing life back to racing legs

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 5/5/21

MIDDLEBURG - Fleming Island High cross country had a banner year in 2010 with a state cross country invite that including a brothers pair and a track state champion as team members.

The brothers …

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Hope Therapy bringing life back to racing legs


MIDDLEBURG - Fleming Island High cross country had a banner year in 2010 with a state cross country invite that including a brothers pair and a track state champion as team members.

The brothers duo; David and Luke Steinberg, combined forces with the likes of Cameron Davis, 16:44, and an 800 meters state champion in the spring and Florida State University athlete, and names like Erik Hartley (Flagler College cross country record holder) and Benjamin Bayles (17:04, U of South Florida, Jacksonville U football kicker, FIHS state soccer champion

As life ventured forward, David Steinberg’s life took some tragic turns after small bounds of success; one a Disney Marathon finish in just over three hours in 2012.

Today, Steinberg, a hard-charging finisher of his cross country and track races, is a bit away from his running stature with a debilitating illness; HSP-11, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia type 11; characterized by progressive muscle stiffness and the development of paralysis of the lower limbs.

According to medical information, the illness involved spasticity of the leg muscles and muscle weakness.

For Steinberg, the diagnosis of his HSP came about a year ago after a dramatic, but successful finish of a marathon in Columbus, OH in 2018 despite severe dehydration and cramps.

“For now, we are trying numerous therapies to offset his HSP,” said Mary Steinberg. “We have flown him to Arizona for sessions with a neurological based exercise physiologist that works with professional athletes to improve performance with rehabilitation.”

Ironically, one of the shining lights of returning to normal walking and even less-cumbersome standing, Steinberg and his family found Hope Therapy in Middleburg, a reknowned Hippotherapy non-profit near Jennings State Forest.

“I found them on the internet and decided to give it a try,” said Mary Steinberg. “It’s a different experience for David; he likes horses and I read that the movement of a horse is similar to human walking movement.”

Established in 2001 by a mother/daughter team of Marianne and Rebecca Davenport, Hope Therapy is one of just a few Equine Assisted Activaties and Therapy (EAAT) program in northeast Florida and the only premiere center with PATHintel (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) in Florida.

“Our love for horses; my mom her whole life and me taking lessons as a kid, got us here,” said Rebecca Davenport, who began as an occupational therapist. “We work to connect mind and body for a better quality of life.”

Davenport admitted that having an athlete with Steinberg’s history seemed a challenge for her, but that her own running and athletics has been hampered by injury and she can see the connection with athletes.

“The horse gait duplicates the human gait when he is on the horse and works the flexibility and range of motion of the hips,” said Davenport. “We were in awe of David’s improvement as far as his core and leg function after just one ride. We have, in the past, dealt with young kids with developmental delays or traumatic injury negating the neuro input of movement. David has been a great athlete before and his brain knows how that works ( not kind of) to walk and run and we hope to tap into that with the help of our special horse.”

For Steinberg, the feel of the horse, his being Merlin, is a new sensation in his body awareness.

“I’ve ridden horses before so I wasn’t nervous or scared, I rode a horse at a ranch in Arizona while on vacation,” said Steinberg. “My mom did the research and we are trying anything we can to help my legs. I feel a lot looser when I get off the horse. I’d like to run again.”

Note: Hope Therapy, at 1591 Big Branch Road in Middleburg (904-887-8451), operates solely on grants, corporate and individual donations and fundraising events, is hosting their annual fundraiser at the 15-acre campus on Sat., May 8 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Davenport has seen marked improvement with Steinberg’s mobility after just three sessions with Merlin.

Whether Steinberg progresses to his high school running status is unlikely, but to reverse some of the affects of HSP and create a smoother leg-strong lifestyle is the goal of John and Mary Steinberg.

“We want to keep his mobility to walk and stay out of a wheelchair,” said Mary Steinberg. “This was his third on the horse and we have seen more erect posture, he can side step better and he has improved range of motion with his legs.”

Mary Steinberg is forever searching for some answers for her son.

“Being a very good competitive athlete, David has struggled for quite a while trying to keep his competitive nature in tact with his illness,” said Mary Steinberg. “He now has a recumbent bicycle that gets him outside and using his legs more and that has helped, but it is an ongoing process to stay ahead of the HSP.”

For Mary Steinberg, the difficulty is finding adaptive programs for David. “They are out there and it’s hard to find them..I’m looking all the time and Hope Therapy has been a good find.”