We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

Herbert Lemus wasn’t looking for anything special but that doesn’t mean he didn’t find it.

Two summers ago, Lemus, the head coach of the Healdsburg High boys soccer team, was running a summer soccer program and saw a kid working out on his own.

“He only had one ball and no nets so he had to chase his own ball,” Lemus remembers.

Lemus didn’t know Cameron Keller, but he was taken by a kid who would work out that hard on his own. He introduced himself and invited Keller to his tryout.

“I was attracted to what I saw that summer,” Lemus said. “The kid who had no nets, no cones, just shooting on his own. I love that kid who just does the work that needs to be done.”

When Lemus picked Keller for the junior varsity soccer squad, he didn’t know the half of the hard work that Keller had put in well before that summer day in 2015.

Keller, a UCLA-bound senior who will graduate from Healdsburg High on June 10, missed half of his high school career because of illness. Beginning in his eighth-grade year, he was at home, largely bedridden, with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, an affliction marked by light-headedness, fatigue, tremor, anxiety and palpitation.

Another symptom? Exercise intolerance.

Symptoms are relieved by lying down.

“We think I probably got it from the flu in sixth grade or something,” Keller said of the affliction he originally thought was mononucleosis.

When it was at its worst, Keller was too tired to read, he was too tired to focus on lessons brought to him by a tutor sent by the school district. The ace student was suddenly struggling to keep up.

“I’ve always been a student who works hard,” he said. “I love school; I love going to school.”

The kid who as a 10-year-old phone banked for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign had no lack of motivation or desire, he just couldn’t muster the energy.

So from early in his eighth grade year to his junior year, Keller was largely at home, lying down. He struggled through walks on the treadmill.

But he targeted swimming for both therapy and a competitive outlet. And of course, he thought about soccer.

“Swimming was helpful in that it was horizontal and full body. That was definitely my thinking when I did it,” he said. “It’s also good in that water pressure helps with blood flow.”

But there was more to it than that. Suiting up for the Hounds meant more than just getting in shape.

“I think part of the reason I latched onto sports is I really saw them as freedom,” he said.

Keller saw athletics as his way back in. Back into school, back into the social scene, back into life.

He started making up lost credits at Santa Rosa Junior College and even through an invite-only summer program at Stanford where he took college level courses. Keller not only worked his way back to a full credit load, he did it while earning a 4.18 grade point average.

School is one thing, but turning up for sports after an illness that dropped his fitness to its lowest possible levels would require a certain kind of grit.

“I was really gung ho to play soccer again but I was really winded,” he said of those first days under Lemus’s watchful eye.

Lemus remembered the kid who worked out on his own and asked him back, winded or not. Keller had skill and he had speed, he just needed to get fit.

“He wasn’t in good shape, to be honest with you,” Lemus said.

Lemus put Keller on the JV team where fitness was the focus. Keller wasn’t disappointed, he called the move “perfect.”

“I love soccer,” he said. “Soccer was the sport I did before I got sick so as I was getting better, I went out and started playing.”

“I didn’t know if I was ever going to play soccer again, being sick,” Keller said. “I had the gut feeling, of course I’m going to get better, but...”

So to join the team was a milestone.

“Soccer was kind of my transition back, even socially. It was cool to be doing something every day after school,” he said.

Looking back, Keller believes his illness made an already outstanding student even more focused.

“I think it made me more determined and ambitious in a way,” he said. “I’m more driven and goal-oriented and I think I had to be that way to get better.”

But this story doesn’t come up entirely roses. Keller didn’t become a star for the Hounds, in soccer or swimming. But he never asked for a break or even accommodation.

“I don’t want to be the kid with the illness. I wanted to do as well as I could,” he said of both soccer and swimming.

“He’s not a person who uses it in any way to justify anything,” Hounds’ swim coach Laraine Carter said.

In fact, Carter said Keller never told her that he has battled fatigue issues.

“He never complained, never said ‘I have to take it easy,’” she said.

And this season, Keller came on strong for the Hounds. He was a regular points winner in his distance freestyle events and relays.

“He’s like glue, he’s solid,” Carter said.

Lemus agreed.

Keller put in solid minutes this fall, for a Hounds team that went 8-3-1 in the Sonoma County League.

He didn’t crack the senior-heavy starting lineup, but Keller was a contributor, both in games and in practices.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better kid to be on the team, to be honest with you,” Lemus said.

“I knew he had the work ethic to do it,” he said.

Keller had it in spades.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

Show Comment