Chris Keogh: Footballer hopes to stand tall at wedding as he targets 'miraculous' recovery

Chris Keogh
Chris Keogh was discharged after 130 days in hospital

"I just want to stand at the altar when I get married."

Just 12 months on from being told it would be a miracle if he ever walked again, achieving that simple wedding-day target would mean the world to Chris Keogh.

The 28-year-old was paralysed from the chest down after dislocating his neck in a freak football accident playing for amateur club AFC Ewell exactly a year ago.

Some heartbreaking lows have followed. But an all-encompassing approach to rehab helped replace the tears and tough times, with a remarkably upbeat outlook being rewarded with unexpected brilliant news.

"When I was injured I was told it was a 'complete injury' and there was no chance of getting back on two feet," Keogh told BBC Sport.

"But when I started rehab I was re-diagnosed as 'incomplete', meaning there was some connection from the brain to the spinal cord.

"It doesn't guarantee anything, it just means there is something happening. It might not be strong enough to walk again. But I have a two-year 'golden window' after injury where the rate of recovery is highest."

Chris Keogh
Keogh says he cannot thank people enough for their love and support

He's halfway into the golden window and just over a year away from the now realistic possibility of standing up when he marries his long-term girlfriend Daisy Allen next summer.

"I'm not thinking about walking, but even if it's on a Zimmer frame or on leg braces I want to be able to stand up for half an hour," Keogh said.

His recovery has been all about small figurative steps, but the feeling of pure joy when he felt a minor twinge in his left leg a couple of months after the injury was immense.

Mum and dad [Carol and David] were with him at the time. It was overwhelming for everyone.

"We all just cried," he added. "Feeling movement was amazing. I just have to go at it hard to get it stronger and stronger."

Progress over the past 12 months has been "amazing", according to Adam Williams, his good friend and player-manager of AFC Ewell's Saturday seniors side.

"It blows me away how well he has done," Williams said. "I am proud to be his friend.

"It seem like every time I speak to him he has a new update and I am sure his positivity has helped a lot. He is so determined and works so hard.

"After the original diagnosis there was no way I expected him to be in this position."

'It could have been worse'

Away from the relentless rehab, Keogh's life has steadily returned to "normality".

Keogh works two days a week as a relationship manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the job he was due to start two days after his injury - "not many people get their own allocated car parking space when they go in!".

He has moved out of his parents' home and lives with Daisy in their old one-bedroom flat.

They had to sell the first house they bought together because it wasn't practical and the support from friends, family and the footballing community continues to be vital.

Financial support has helped fund the rehab and the expensive bespoke wheelchairs he has to have custom-made because of his 6ft 6in frame.

Keogh certainly appreciates his life.

"Day-to-day things do get easier," he said. "The tricky thing is accepting life will never be the same. But now I don't take things for granted.

"There were people I saw who have to be spoon fed. I was devastated but it could have been much worse.

Daisy Allen and Chris Keogh

"Being miserable and sad won't get you anywhere. You cannot drag yourself down; you have to keep striving.

"And it hasn't just happened to me. Daisy, her family, my family; they have all been rocks and it has brought us all together.

"Daisy keeps me going. I bought the ring and proposed the day I came out of hospital. We have been together more than 10 years and it was always the plan to get married."

He wants to work his way up the career ladder and he still harbours ambitions of achieving something in sport.

Keogh is at the gym up to five days a week and the possibility of becoming a Paralympian still gives him a buzz.

He has tried "numerous" different sports, has just competed in the Spinal Cord Games, but is yet to settle on any particular sport.

The big Chelsea fan has tried swimming, wheelchair rugby and basketball.

Chris Keogh and Chelsea player Eden Hazard
Keogh's "dream" visit to Chelsea saw him meet and chat to some of the club's star men, including Eden Hazard

"I miss the football and the banter so much," he said. "I am looking to fill the void, but have not found anything that captures my imagination yet."

He may not be able to play football anymore, but AFC Ewell's one-time Peter Crouch-style target man remains very much involved.

Williams, who will be an usher at his good friend's wedding next year, added: "I imagine he is not always as upbeat as when we see him, but nothing has really changed.

"He is involved with the WhatsApp chat and still very much part of the team."

And, of course, his mates - possibly soon to be former mates - have a stag do to help organise.

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