Fitness didn’t stop him from heart problems or COVID-19, but it did help him recover


About a month after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, LeCount Holmes saw on television that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was less than a mile from his house for a big announcement.

Because Prince George County was one of the regions hardest hit by the coronavirus, a former regional hospital was reopened earlier than planned to provide treatment for 135 more patients.

Holmes hopped on his bike, hoping to catch a glimpse of the governor. When he arrived there were only news trucks left, but at least he had exercised.

Despite being 70 years old, Holmes’ attitude towards the virus was, “Being in such good shape, it’s not going to get me.”

Holmes was 4 years old when his father taught him to ride a bicycle. He has been active ever since.

Growing up in Washington, DC in the 1950s and 1960s, he enjoyed swimming and hand dancing, a DC-originated form of swing dance fueled by the sounds of Motown. When he was 15, his gym trainer had the boys do push-ups. Tall and thin and weak, Holmes was so embarrassed that he couldn’t do anything that he vowed to do something.

“My grandmother put on weight for me,” he said. “My mom said I had to use them in the yard because they were too loud inside.”

In a year, he could lift 110 pounds with just one arm.

Over the decades that followed, Holmes lived a colorful life.

He was considering becoming a Muslim; now he’s a practicing Buddhist. He did some voiceover on the radio. For over 25 years, he performed Frederick Douglass for high school and college audiences across the country.

He has also been a motivational speaker and fitness instructor. In 2004, at age 55, he won bronze medals in swimming and track and field at the Senior Olympics in Atlanta.

Two years ago Holmes was teaching an aqua aerobics class through the Prince George County Recreation Department. One day, while standing by the pool, he passed out.

Holmes was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. For someone still fit and active, this contact with mortality frightened him.

“It was scary because I went to a lot of funerals for people I grew up with,” he said.

But he trusted his excellent overall health and his long-held claim: “The name of the game of life is don’t give up.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Holmes’ fitness classes were moved online.

The county urged him to maintain them via Zoom, but he refused. The technology intimidated him.

“Then I heard the words, ‘Don’t give up, LeCount’. “

Last September, he learned to use Zoom and immediately resumed teaching.

In December, Holmes woke up with a fever. He was vomiting and his breathing was difficult. He went to the emergency room of the hospital where he had cycled the day the governor announced its reopening.

He tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent home to recover. Three days later, he felt even worse. A COVID contact tracer at the hospital called to verify it.

“She heard how sick I was and how I could barely breathe and called an ambulance,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, Holmes lost 15 pounds. He contracted pneumonia, his blood pressure skyrocketed, he needed oxygen and plasma, and he developed a painful aortic aneurysm.

Still, he persevered, focusing on not giving up. He practiced yoga and frequently sang the Buddhist prayer “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, an expression of determination and primacy over suffering.

“My old neighborhood, my friends in the Christian community and my Buddhist community, they all prayed for me,” he said.

His doctor told him that if he hadn’t been so healthy with such strong lungs, he might not have survived.

When Holmes left the hospital, he couldn’t do a single push-up. By resuming his fitness program, he is now doing 80 a day.

In February, he launched his own twice-weekly online fitness class. He also has a monthly online motivational newsletter.

“My main motivation is to show older people that life is not over and that aging is just another chapter in your life,” he said.

He is particularly interested in promoting fitness in the black community, where obesity, diabetes and hypertension are more prevalent.

One of his regular attendees is Lorraine “Bernie” Poindexter, a childhood classmate he reunited with a few years ago when they met at an eyewear store.

“I turned my back on him, but immediately recognized his voice,” she said.

She wasn’t surprised to see that he had kept fit and was teaching fitness classes.

“He’s always been a very outgoing person and his classes are really fun and energetic,” said Poindexter. “He teaches us new things all the time. He just had us order hoops.”

Holmes, who hopes to return to the stage this year, has a new goal: to write a book of poetry.

“I will keep reinventing myself until I lose my breath,” he said. “Age is really just a number.”

Stories from the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.

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