Father-daughter high-jumping duo aspires to great heights

  • By
  • | 10:59 a.m. August 20, 2015
Father-daughter high-jumping duo aspires to great heights
Father-daughter high-jumping duo aspires to great heights
  • Sports
  • Share


Keilisa White wants to be just like her dad.

She took up track and field, just like her dad, Keith White. 

After dabbling in the 100-meter and 400-meter runs, she even changed her focus to the high jump — just like her dad. A part of the 10-year-old Winter Garden youth even wants to top her father, breaking some of his records one day. 

Considering Keith is a former All-American who set school records at Ferris State University and Lansing Community College, later competed professionally and most recently placed second in the men’s high jump — ages 45-49 — at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championships, it’s an ambitious goal.

Then again, a week after her dad’s impressive performance in Jacksonville, Keilisa placed 11th at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Norfolk, Virginia.

Ambitious, yes. But perhaps attainable.


Keith started as a hoops star.

In fact, while attending Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan, Keith didn’t even join the track-and-field team until his senior year, on a teammate’s prompting. It was a good thing he did: The team won the state championship. 

After beginning his collegiate career on the basketball team at Ferris State, Keith returned to the high-jump event in college. After a brief professional career, though, he was away from the sport until he moved to Florida.

While also owning a successful pest control business, the Stoneybrook West resident met Gary Evans, head coach for Pure Athletics at the National Training Center in Clermont.

“We talked, and next thing I knew, I was assisting him,” Keith said. “I coach jumpers and also help him out with the sprinters.”

Now 49 and turning 50 in November, Keith has been reinvigorated by his involvement with the organization and its facilities — including the ability to train alongside the many professionals who frequent the NTC.

“Just to be able to have the facilities and to be able to go to the weight room … this is like the perfect area,” Keith said. “Having access to professional athletes that you can pick their brain.”


Keilisa was drawn to track and field about two years ago, when a cousin took up the sport, starting roughly a decade younger than her father. She tried other events, but eventually, the family business of high jumping came calling.

“My dad said that he did high jumping, so I said, ‘OK, then I want to do high jumping,’” Keilisa said.

Despite natural ability, Keilisa encountered some mental hurdles as she began in the sport. Afraid of missing on a jump or possibly hurting herself, she often failed to jump on attempts. Eventually, though, the mental toughness came.

“This year, I started and I was like, ‘OK, I’m not going to be afraid of the bar — it’s just a bar,’” Keilisa said.

Since overcoming that mental hurdle, Keilisa has placed second at an AAU event at Disney’s Wide World of Sports and then in June placed first at the AAU Regional Qualifier in Tallahassee. That led to her competing at the Junior Olympics, where her 11th-place finish among the top 26 competitors in the country in her age group was an encouraging development.

“We’ve still got to work on more athleticism with her — getting her feet quicker and getting her to jump higher,” Keith said. “At the same time, I’m not trying to pressure her or push her, because I don’t want to burn her out.”

Still, as a father, Keith said he was proud to see his daughter embrace her fear of the bar— and of failing.

“Pole vaulting and high jumping, no matter what, you’re going to fail,” Keith said. “You have to really have a thick skin and put the last jump behind you.”


High jumping has become more than just a shared passion for the Whites. It also has become an avenue for father-daughter bonding time, like when the two made the trip to Virginia recently. 

“Most of the track meets we go to, it’s normally just us two,” Keilisa said. “I thought of it (Junior Olympics) more as a family vacation than I did as a track meet.”

The two visited the children’s museum there, among plenty of other sights.

At home, the training sessions Keith and Keilisa share — set to ramp back up in October — are also an opportunity to bond (except when Keith has Keilisa train by running up the hills at the NTC, her least favorite drill).

But, although Keith takes the lead during training sessions, it’s not quite so simple in the kitchen.

“I learn from her,” Keith said. “She’s a vegetarian — she leads the house on that one.”


The future is bright for the Whites.

Two weeks after Keith turns 50, he will graduate from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He hopes to attend law school after that and is excited to compete in USATF competition in the 50-54 age group.

“I want to live longer, seriously,” Keith said, explaining his motivation to continue to compete. “I have a philosophy that I’m going to prepare like I’m going to live to 100 but live every day like it’s the last. Just try to enjoy every moment.”

Keith has an older son, also named Keith, who is a football player at Iowa Central. Keilisa may be a long way from college — or her myriad dream careers as an Olympian, doctor, nurse or astronaut — but the Winter Garden youth does not lack confidence.

“She’s been a great kid,” Keith said. “I’m enjoying this ride with her and watching her development.”

Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].


Related Articles