by Devon Dams-O'Connor
As a teenager, Jason Jerome played football and ran track at a large public high school in Aurora, Illinois. But while many varsity players dream of becoming world-class athletes, Jerome worked his way up the ranks to become a world-class strength and conditioning coach for professional and Olympic stars instead.
And now he’s in Buffalo.
Jerome is the director of athletic development at Impact Sports Performance in the HarborCenter downtown. He’s here by way of Florida, where he earned a master’s degree in sports medicine at the University at Miami. Given the school’s location, the caliber of its athletic staff and facilities, and the number of alumni who went on to play sports professionally, Jerome had the opportunity to begin working with high-level athletes while he was still a student. After graduating in 2006, the Miami Hurricane athletic department recruited him to rehab Olympic, professional, and collegiate athletes; as a 24-year-old, he worked with pros from the NFL and MLB like Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza and Sinorice Moss.
Purely by chance, Jerome’s next job paved his road to Buffalo. He had become the director of athletic development at Impact Sports Performance in Boca Raton, Florida, and was working with a professional tennis player who had come in for strength work before and after reconstructive ankle surgery. During their months of therapy, Jerome learned that her parents were business people who had a few big investments and projects going on in Buffalo. The athlete was Jessica Pegula, and her parents had just bought the Sabres and were in the planning phase for the new HarborCenter complex near the hockey arena.
At her daughter’s suggestion, Kim Pegula contacted Jerome and asked if he thought he could create and sustain a Buffalo version of Impact Sports Performance inside HarborCenter to offer individual and team training for novice, high school, college, and professional athletes. Jerome flew up and met with coaches at St. Francis, Frontier, and other high schools, looked at what kind of elite training options existed in the city and suburbs, and spoke with athletes and teams to determine whether or not the Impact model would work here. Jerome thought it could. So he and his wife Keli, Impact’s sales and business manager, packed their bags and moved to Buffalo. The Pegulas have since bought the Boca location as well as the one here.
Jerome said the training center is staffed with seven highly qualified sports performance professionals, mostly Buffalo natives with advanced degrees or certifications who jumped at the chance to come back home to work. Together, they help a diverse roster of clients improve their bodies and reach goals big and small. Regulars include the Sabres, elite high school teams, groups of inner city 5- and 6-year-old football players, breast cancer survivors, college athletes from Canisius and ECC, and Roller Derby girls, just to name a few; while the center’s primary audience is athletes who want to fine-tune their performance, there’s barely a sport, age, or ability level that isn’t represented.
At 4,500 square feet and a maximum capacity of 75 people, the training center is small compared to cavernous health club chains. But the sixth-floor space, lined with massive windows overlooking the waterfront, is an efficient, carefully packed athletic playground featuring equipment and machines that rival professional sports teams’ collections, all used to build strength, speed, mobility, and healing. A partnership with Advanced Care Physical Therapy, which operates a PT clinic within the space, provides athletes with specialized therapeutic, rehabilitation, diagnostic and wellness services.
Jerome has three questions for every athlete — armchair or elite — when they step into Impact. They are: what are your goals, what is your timeline, and how many people do you want to work out with? Based on those answers, he and his staff can put together a package or program that fits each person’s preferences and budget. But whether someone ends up training every day or just a few times a week, Jerome says encouraging people to simply move more is the most important thing.
“It’s a lot easier, living in Western New York’s seasons, to fall into patterns where we’re inside and not moving much,” says Jerome. “But any kind of mobility – just staying active, not even intense – maintains a better quality of life