A last place finish to remember

A last place finish to remember

I am indebted to Jeri Stracner from Carlisle and Pat Grenier for this column because I, unfortunately, did not witness the best part of the 5K Born to Run Walk/Run Saturday morning.

<div class="source">Photo courtesy of Jeri Stracner</div><div class="image-desc">Kristen Crawford crosses the finish line to the sound of cheers and applause in her first ever 5K run.</div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="http://web2.lcni5.com/cgi-bin/c2newbuyphoto.cgi?pub=081&amp;orig=viewpoint_5krun.jpg" target="_new">Buy this photo</a></div>

While I’m not blessed with powers to predict the future — not even the soon-to-be future — I still hate missing the good stuff when it happens.
And the story about the end of the 2014 Born to Run 5K, folks, is about the really, really good stuff.
The run/walk, sponsored annually by the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, was wrapping up. Awards were being presented to the top finishers in the numerous gender and age categories, but not every participant had yet crossed the finish line.
There was somebody quite special completing the run in last place.
Kristen Crawford, from Carlisle, is the 32-year-old niece of Jeri and Mike Stracner and has cerebral palsy.
I am acquainted with Kristen because of my friendship with the Stracners, but I can’t say that I know her all that well.
When I would see her in the company of the Stracners or with her grandfather, Billy Dale Crawford, the thing I noticed most was that Kristen smiled a lot and seemed always to be in good spirits.
But that was almost a decade ago.
According to Jeri, a few years ago, Kristen was living in her own apartment and she wasn’t very happy.
“She was wallowing in excuses as to why she couldn’t go outside for a walk or get any kind of exercise,” Jeri explained.
Kristen’s personal malaise was affecting her health, Jeri said, and she wasn’t taking steps to change the course her life was heading.
Concerned, the Stracners decided to move Kristen into their home.
“We taught her about healthy eating. We encouraged daily walks. She went from a size 22 to a size 8,” Jeri said.
The 5k run, however, was Kristen’s first.
According to Jeri, Kristen was nervous. The farthest Kristen had ever walked before was two miles and now she was attempting to take on a five kilometer hike with only her walker for support.
She entered the race with a t-shirt that read “Excuses Suck.” Despite that show of determination, “she said before the race that her heart was pounding.”
It took Kristen longer than anyone else to complete the race. In fact, Grenier was already handing out awards to the finishers when she saw Kristen approaching the finish line.
And that, folks, is when the good stuff happened. I had already peeled off to take photos of the Big Feet, Little Feet walk, unaware of Kristen’s participation in the 5K. But then, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the poignancy of the moment.
Grenier halted the awards ceremony and everyone that had remained applauded and cheered as Kristen crossed the finish line.
“She told me that nothing but will power got her through the 5K,” Stracner said. “She is so proud of her accomplishment. It boosted her confidence and taught her that she can accomplish most anything, even though her body doesn’t cooperate very well.”
Congratulations to Kristen for a terrific finish and a warm smile, heck, maybe even a hug, to all those who made a last place finish the greatest of all the victories that day.

The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

I didn’t quite know what I was looking for, or expecting,when I went driving down U.S. 27 south to find the reported “woman in black” walking along the highway.

The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black

All I had was this ominous title — Woman in Black ­— and that was enough for me to be intrigued. I had not yet discovered that this odd figure had become an internet meme or that a Facebook page had been created just for her.
What I did know was that sightings of her walking down Paris Pike from Lexington and up US 27 toward Cynthiana had sparked wild speculations all over the internet. It became an instant topic of conversation and one of the few times in my memory when people sought out the Cynthiana Democrat Facebook page with anxious questions about “the story” on this woman.
And that was my mission on Monday morning. To get the story….
By the time I was in my car, this figure had become living folklore.
I drove the highways radiating from downtown searching for anything who fit the description of a wandering woman in black.
Then I got a tip on my cell phone. The woman had been seen passing Cockrell’s Auto on the highway heading toward Cynthiana.
As I exited the roundabout to southbound 27, part of me hoped I wouldn’t find this woman.
It somehow felt right that I should search and never find this person. Then I would be free to dismiss the whole story as groundless rumor. People would be talking about sighting the mysterious woman in black and I could add my two cents by telling about how I looked for her and she wasn’t there.
But not long after I had passed the Kentucky Farm Bureau office, sure enough, there she was — dressed in billowing black robes and head scarf bearing two large linen sacks dyed the same flat black.
Usually when something of this nature occurs, our imaginations far exceed the actual event.
But not this time.
In this one rare instance, the woman in black not only met my every expectation for a strange roadside encounter but, bless that dear woman, she exceeded them by responding to my presence in the best way possible.
She completely ignored me.
I found a place to stop on the side of the road, awkwardly awaited her approach with reporter’s notebook in hand, asked permission to talk and she walked past me without a word, glance or slight acknowledgement.
I knew in that moment that there wasn’t going to be an answer to this mystery and, to be honest, I was glad.
I had occasion to see others approach her along the highway. She refused offers of water or food, but never complained, or even reacted much at all, when people took photos.
I can empathize with the criticism that this woman was needlessly bothered by the attention of the press and passers-by. However, if it was her intention to travel a great distance on foot unnoticed, she chose to dress herself in a manner that drew the maximum amount of attention towards her.
What possible reaction can one expect when you choose to be a “strange, silent woman in black robes who wanders the highway?” That’s  something right out of an episode of The Twilight Zone.
And because she chose to offer no explanation, she opened the vaults wide for all manner of weird ideas. I like to think I’m above that sort of thing – but I’m not.
By Monday afternoon, the woman ceased to be the real story, if she ever was at all.
The story was the tales and theories being circulated among those whose imaginations she had captured.
My favorite was the theory that there were multiple women in black; some figured she was staging a wordless political protest; she was a self-appointed holy person on a spiritual pilgrimage; or it could be some kind of performance art to start people talking.
One person went into paranoia overdrive, suggesting that she was randomly planting bombs along her way … sigh.
For myself, I was influenced heavily by the brutal weekend accident that claimed the lives of two young people I knew well in Nicholas County. Combined with other fatalities and suicides that have happened this month, I could not help but apply a metaphysical explanation to her. A silent, blank-faced woman in black certainly lends itself to supernatural images of a spectral figure of death, even if the subject is clearly mortal flesh and blood.
Fortunately, I was able to dispense with these ideas when I heard updates on social media that she’d been seen shopping at the Wal-Mart in Alexandria.
That bit of intelligence returned her to human form.
But I am still no less intrigued by the mystery surrounding her presence. Ironically, though, I hope we never find out the truth.
In this case, I think, truth would ruin the story.

Machines are too smart to take over: they’d rather just mess with us

Some mornings … well, let’s just say that there are mornings that can start so badly that its better to have tea in the office  than coffee.

<div class="source"></div><div class="image-desc">Josh Shepherd</div><div class="buy-pic"></div>

Josh Shepherd

Though I probably could have used a light tranquilizer as a chaser last Wednesday morning when the transmission in my Ford Escape decided to go kaput.
It was on Walnut Grove Road at about 5 a.m. I had just veered off US 68, which was teeming with early morning traffic, to head toward Cynthiana when, with no warning, I heard a sickening clank of metal parts. My engine revved to 200 rpms with no corresponding sense of acceleration.
In fact, there was movement at all.
I used the car’s momentum to carry me safely off the road, then reluctantly turned on my hazard lights.
I realize the wisdom of taking that safety precaution, but its also an invitation to be gawked at by nosy rubberneckers as they pass me on their way to work. I know I do it often enough.
But what timing! It couldn’t happen on a busy highway. Like every bad horror movie ever made, I had to breakdown on a dark and narrow country road.
My Wednesday calendar, normally a busy time anyway being deadline day for the Democrat, was particularly full.
I did not have time for THIS!
So I did the thing everyone does when their machines break down. I pretended that my transmission would magically fix itself by turning my car off and on again. It works with my computer, after all…
You can imagine how effective that was.
You may label me paranoid, but here lately, I have had just a bit too many of those moments.
Some call it bad luck. Others claim it’s Murphy’s Law, “That which can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time.”
But at the moment, I am not inclined to buy those explanations. I don’t want to pass this off as mere coincidence.
There are plenty of stories out there about sophisticated machines achieving their own brand of consciousness; their own sentience. And in becoming self-aware, they rise up against us.
We dismiss these stories as “science fiction.” But only hours removed from the breakdown of my car, I’m halfway convinced that we’ve passed the fictional boundary of this scenario.
Not only do I think my car broke down on purpose, but far worse, I think it did it just so it could enjoy watching me throw a fit on the side of Walnut Grove Road.
Now, I have no rational argument on which to base my suspicions and its only been a few hours since this event. But the timing bothers me.
And the fact that I also imagine, if my delusion is true, that if machines did become self-aware, they’d rather toy with us for their personal amusement rather than take over the world.
It doesn’t my help my paranoia that I watched nine-year-olds at Southside Elementary school program a Lego robot to move on its own through a classroom a few days ago.
Man those kids really knew how to tell a machine where to go.
It was for a story I write about Southside Elementary’s first robot camp. It’s featured in this week’s Cynthiana Democrat.
When I wrote the story, it was from a sense of optimism about our children’s future. It talked about how this camp will introduce young people to a completely new frontier of discovery.
I even did a Google search about other robot camps and how drone and robot technology is the hot new thing in schools and universities across the country.
I was amazed at what drones and robots are doing at this very moment!
Let me tell you, it’s more than just military strikes and home deliveries for Amazon.

The personal flying car? Folks, it’s coming.
For a brief and wonderful moment, my mind was opened to a whole new world of possibilities.
What a difference a few hours, and a busted transmission, makes.
Think what a nightmare world my imagination conjured when broken down on a dark and lonely country road with only the flashing of my emergency lights to keep me company.
I may have kicked my car a few times to show it who was boss, but it did nothing.
Once I finish paying the repair bill I may consider forgiving my car its poor taste and sense of humor.
But before I do, I’m going to introduce it to some sharp Harrison County school students and let it see what they can do, if they set their minds to it.
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