ZEPHYRHILLS — In high school, Keymo Pearson did the long and triple jump for the Pasco Pirates, but he was best at the high jump, where he made the state finals three of his four years on varsity.
Now, as the head fitness trainer at Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, this former standout athlete uses his skills to help a population far removed from competitive sports.
The hospital's gym has members of all ages and abilities, catering to people with special needs like heart conditions, diabetes or simply advanced age.
Pearson, 29, says he has found a calling helping them.
"He has a way of pushing us without showing it," 72-year-old gym member Judy Dalrymple said. "I have personally seen people do much more than when they started. You can see the progression."
Dalrymple started coming to the hospital gym a decade ago, when Pearson was just graduating from high school. The two have linked up to form a diabetes-fighting team. Dalrymple's parents and sister died due to complications from the disease. Dalrymple is the only one in her family tree who is not diabetic. She credits her exercise regimen with staving off the disease.
It's a stark contrast from the clientele Pearson was used to working with.
"Most athletes when they complain to you, nine times out of 10 they can keep going," Pearson said. When dealing with special populations, "You have to stop, take their blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate. It's taken more seriously."
Pearson arrived at Zephyrhills after an up-and-down college career. Edward Waters College in Jacksonville was his first stop. But the coach who recruited him had left before Pearson even arrived on campus. Next he landed at Independence Community College in Kansas, where he got his track and field career back on track and made nationals in back-to-back years in the high jump. Finally, a scholarship offer lured him from Independence to nearby Friends University.
He made the NAIA nationals in both the triple and long jump, but back home in Florida his grandparents were in failing health.
"My grandmother ended up dying before I even got back," Pearson said. "I was able to spend time with my grandfather before he passed away, but that's one of my biggest regrets — not being here when my grandmother died."
Spending his grandfather's last few months with him helped cement Pearson's bond with the clients he now serves.
Rose Smith, 75, is one of them.
"We have a relationship now where she'll just come up to me and say, 'I don't have my hearing aid in today,' " Pearson said. "Then I know that I need to look right at her when I talk and talk louder."
The bond goes both ways.
"I'm going on vacation for two weeks and I'm dreading not being able to come (to Pearson's classes)," Smith said.