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.