Kim Keys knows a bit about qualifying for the Olympics because she made the USA Women's Volleyball team back in 2000. But for these 2012 Olympics, she will be in London to represent her company as a "fitness ambassador" supporting Team USA.
Keys is also the new manager for North Hollywood's 24 Hour Fitness Super-Sport club, located in the NoHo Commons complex at 5300 Lankershim Blvd. The club is a recent addition to the neighborhood, opening in the summer of last year. It has a cavernous interior with modern equipment, and is a convenient location for residents of the Arts District.
24 Hour Fitness is a major sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, and Keys is one of their 26 fitness ambassadors, who will staff the all-new High-Performance Training Center specially built for Team USA athletes. 24 Hour Fitness outfitted the London center with state-of-the art gym and training equipment, and provided the technological information and insight to design the facility.
Keys is a tall woman in her 30's, and one can see how her stature and build is ideal for a volleyball player. She is also quite personable and confident, that it's easy to see why the company had selected her from among its 20,000+ employees.
Keys told Patch about how her relatives back in Missouri got a little confused about her present Olympics assignment in London with her past experience on the 2000 Olympics USA Volleyball team.
"I don't know if they all talked about it at a family reunion, but they all think I'm competing in the Olympics." Keys said.
"They were looking for me at the trials on TV. They called my parents and said, 'We looked for Kim, we couldn't see her on the trials, where was she?" Keys laughed.
Keys explained that the fitness ambassadors were chosen based on merit, productivity, their backgrounds and their experiences. An essay also weighed in on the selection process.
"I wrote about how I can help the team, because I know mentally what they've gone through, and you have some athletes that for four years all they've trained for is to get on a podium, and so I know what that feels like. I know the nerves and the emotions and I just want to help them in any way possible." Keys said.
A conference call to her and her staff arranged by the executive office, seemed like business as usual. Then Carl Liebert, the CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, came on the line and announced: "Oh, this is the call for the London Olympics," Keys said. "And everybody started screaming! And I looked like a little kid jumping up and down inside my office!"
Keys attended UC Santa Barbara and has a bachelor's degree in communications, with minors in exercise physiology and business economics. She played for the UCSB Women's Volleyball team, where an assistant coach recommended her to play in a professional league in Puerto Rico after college. There she met other players she had played against in her college games, and learned that they were trying out for the USA Women's Volleyball team.
"Gosh, I can try out for the USA Volleyball team," Keys said. "I think I'm as good or maybe better than these people."
So Keys trained on the beach every day when she returned to Santa Barbara. Then she flew out to Colorado Springs for the Olympic trials. She made the USA Women's Volleyball team.
Keys said she was in Colorado Springs for about a year, living at the training center. Then she was offered a contract to play professional volleyball in Italy, which she accepted.
After her stint in Italy, she played professional women's doubles beach volleyball in Southern California until sponsorship dollars dried up. So she changed her career path and joined the 24 Hour Fitness team.
Keys got a little wistful about her volleyball days, then became enthusiastic about what it could be like in London for USA Volleyball.
"I'm so excited because it could be the first time that we (USA) could win gold medals in men's indoor, women's indoor, men's beach and women's beach volleyball. Which would be awesome, because USA would be the volleyball mecca of the world!" Keys said.
Keys arrived in London on Monday, and spent all day Tuesday going through customs at Heathrow Airport. Then she shuttled to the High Performance Training Center (HPTC), located on the University of East London's campus. She was assigned a room in the dorms, where all the other fitness ambassadors are staying.
"It'll be fun. Just like going to college." Keys laughed. Then the ambassadors will immediately start working with the athletes, she said.
Her ambassador group will host the ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the HPTC, where all 500 USA athletes will work out. The center is designed to be familiar and comfortable for the athletes, and to make them "feel at home."
The HTPC has unique training areas like a fencing facility, a boxing ring, and an archery range. It also has indoor volleyball and basketball courts, as well as an indoor soccer field, in case of any foul weather.
The strength and conditioning coaches for USA Olympics will oversee the operation of the HPTC, while the fitness ambassadors will be the support staff for the facility, Keys said.
Keys said a fitness ambssador's job is to help support the strength and conditioning coaches at the center.
"We may be wiping down and cleaning. We may be spotting athletes when they are lifting weights. We may be timing them during their interval training." Keys said. "But we won't be personal training them. We won't be offering advice on eating, or what medicines to take. We're not there to offer any personal training advice, we're just there as a support system."
Keys was born and raised in Whittier, where her family still lives and where she began her 24 Hour Fitness career. Before arriving at the North Hollywood location, Keys worked in Hollywood, Long Beach, Torrance and Costa Mesa.
Over a decade after being on the USA Volleyball team, Keys was asked what she does now to stay active. Keys said she likes to run on the beach. "I can do that forever."
Keys also recently took up golf so she can spend time with her dad. But she said she doesn't play much volleyball these days because she is too competitive. "If my family was on my team I'd probably yell at them."
Keys said she would love to go to the games, but doesn't know if that's a provided perk. "When the Olympics are going on, you're never going to get that chance again. I'd love to see anything. It'd be really neat to get to see something on an Olympic level, in person."
Keys says that she will "tweet" and record whatever she can. "Hopefully I'm able to bring back my experiences to all of the (24 Hour Fitness) team members, my family and friends." She will be in London until the first week of August.
But Keys said she won't be able to take pictures inside the HPTC for privacy and security reasons.
"I can only imagine being in the Olympics as very nervous, an adrenaline rush... so much excitement and a lot of emotions." Keys said.
Then she summed up the real goal of the fitness ambassadors. "We're there as motivators, as 'high-fivers,' to help them feel at home."