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Larry King Jr. gets pumped about Cheval Athletic Club, plans charity events

Larry King Jr. sits in a spruced-up exercise room at the Cheval Athletic Club. King is financing a major renovation of the club, and hopes partnering with the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center will broaden the fitness center’s appeal.

TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times

Larry King Jr. sits in a spruced-up exercise room at the Cheval Athletic Club. King is financing a major renovation of the club, and hopes partnering with the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center will broaden the fitness center’s appeal.

Larry King Jr. doesn't introduce himself as the son of the former CNN host and famous news icon.

In fact, in his various business dealings some people have gone weeks or months before learning of his lineage.

"With some people who are the children of famous people, the first thing they do is tell you," King said. "I don't. I get a kick out of it when people say, 'I didn't even know that was your dad.' "

King, 50, always has aimed to be his own man and create his own successes. His latest challenge involves renovating the Cheval Athletic Club in Lutz. He says he's investing $250,000 to $500,000 in the project that has the air filled with the whizzing of saws and the banging of hammers.

As the project nears completion, King, who also serves as the president of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, will welcome guests during "Cheval Gives," a three-day series of events being held in conjunction with the nearby Cheval Golf and Country Club. It begins Friday with a casino night at the country club.

The goal is to make Cheval's athletic club a destination spot for children and families, even outside the community. King is partnering with the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center, which will help manage the facility, to achieve that goal.

Visitors will find tennis courts, a refurbished pool and playground, a new fitness room, and education areas that can serve tutors teaching young students or nutritionists giving health classes.

Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper recently sat down with King to talk about his plans.

What's it like being the son of a famous icon?

For any "Jr.," it's tough. You have to live up to the reputation that your father has achieved. If you're the son of a dentist in a small town, everyone wants to know if you're going to be a dentist like your dad. When your father is as famous as my dad and so well loved, it's an absolute challenge every day to live up to that. I'm certainly proud of what he's accomplished, but it's a hard measuring stick. I have to thank my mom for her advice. She always said, "Be who you are and be the best at who you are." You have to be comfortable in your own skin. He's done what he's done, now I'm trying to chart what I'm going to do.

So what drew you to undertaking this Cheval Athletic Club project?

I've been in Tampa almost nine years. I've lived in Cheval the entire time. My sister lived in Cheval seven years prior, so for the last 16 years I've been coming in and out of Cheval either living or visiting. … I've been driving by it every day saying, "This thing has potential." If you put the right business plan together, not only could it be something down the road you can make a profit from, but more importantly, I saw it as a great way to just build the community.

Is the club just open to Cheval residents?

The thought when I got involved with this is that it's for the residents of Cheval. They are going to obviously be the first ones that want to come in here, but it's really open to anyone. We have a good percentage of our tennis members are from outside Cheval and that may continue to grow. I think if we become a destination spot, there's no reason why people can't come in and get to a safe, secure environment. Who knows? Maybe one day they will want to move into Cheval, which is great for the community.

How excited are people about the changes?

There's trepidation first because people are wondering if this is just going to be another failed promise. I've solved that in some ways … I think by being open and listening to residents, by writing to them, writing to members and getting the word out, people can approach me and we can talk about it. And seeing all the improvements going in is proof that we're serious this time. I have a business purpose to this. It's fun to watch when I'm sitting in here and people just drive up, whether they're members or not members, just to walk in and see what's going on. That's when I take them on tours. I get a kick out of that.

So you're also president of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. Tell me about that.

My father was with CNN at the time and he was actually doing TV and radio. He was just getting off his overnight radio show and he didn't feel right. He went to the hospital and they diagnosed him with a heart attack. After he had the (quintuple bypass) surgery, he asked, "How much did the heart surgery cost?" Back then, it cost 50,000 bucks. He said, "What happens to the people that don't have insurance, that don't have the financial wherewithal to pay for surgeries?" What he found out was that in a lot of cases, the people died or they became emergency cases. So the foundation provides life-saving cardiac care to people who don't have insurance and don't have the money to pay for cardiac procedures. We have a partnership with All Children's and Pepin Heart Hospital.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.

.If You Go

Party for charity

"Cheval Gives" events will take place at the Cheval Golf and Country Club, 4312 Cheval Blvd., Lutz, and nearby Cheval Athletic Club.

Friday: Las Vegas Casino Night & Silent Auction, 7-11 p.m.

Saturday: Tennis tournament, 9 a.m.; carnival and pool party, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; L'amour au Cheval Fine Dining Charity Fundraiser, 7 p.m.

Feb. 19: Men, Ladies and Family Golf Tournament, tees off at 9:30 a.m.

Note: During evening activities, parents can register children to attend "parents night out" at the athletic club. Go to chevalgolfandcountryclub.com/chevalgives.

Larry King Jr. gets pumped about Cheval Athletic Club, plans charity events 02/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 3:30am]

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