Herald-Leader Editorials

Ky. gaining on a healthier image

Kynect, Chase put state in spotlight

October 22, 2013 

The 200-mile Bourbon Chase brings runners from around the world to Central Kentucky in the fall. Dr. Kimberly Stiggers was photographed on Yarnallton Pike during the inaugural event in 2009.

ERIK S.YOUNG — ESY Photography

This state, long known for health-destroying habits and dysfunctional government, has scored two victories this fall.

The rollout of Kynect, Kentucky's health insurance exchange, beginning Oct. 1 is the first. Not flawless but still a national standout that has already resulted in thousands of Kentuckians gaining access to affordable health insurance.

And, there's the Bourbon Chase, the 200-mile relay race that began Friday morning at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, wound its way through bourbon and horse country to end at Triangle Park in downtown Lexington Saturday afternoon.

Through the days and night, sun and rain, 4,200 runners on 325 teams climbed Kentucky's rolling hills, admired the scenery and enjoyed the hospitality in historic downtowns, at welcoming churches and, of course, at six distilleries along the way.

In just its fifth year, the Bourbon Chase has already become such a huge draw that the team slots filled immediately when registration opened in January. Runners came from several countries, including Spain, Brazil and the Netherlands and at least 44 states. The economic impact is substantial as these visitors spend money on food, lodging, gas and of course, bourbon.

Perhaps the larger impact, though, is on Kentucky's image. "I think that we're changing perceptions around the country," said race originator and director Mike Kuntz. No longer backwoods and sedentary, we host one of the best of these unusual races.

A former University of Louisville track and field coach who later organized events for the American Lung Association, Kuntz got the idea for the Bourbon Chase after running an overnight relay in Oregon in 2001, about the time the Bourbon Trail was being developed in Kentucky. He sold tourism officials and bourbon makers on it and the inaugural Bourbon Chase was run in 2009.

The relay is a celebration not of a few elite young athletes performing on a court or field, or of some extraordinarily well-bred equine athletes running over a course, but of thousands of ordinary humans of varying ages and athletic ability staying fit and having fun.

For Kentucky — a state that ranks so high in negative health indicators like obesity, tobacco use, cardiac disease and various cancers — gaining renown as a place where people come to run is a huge step forward (pun intended.)

In fairness, running is not the only active attraction that lures people to this area. The 36th annual Horsey Hundred, a 100-mile bicycle race and ride sponsored by the Bluegrass Cycling Club, drew a couple of thousand people from Canada and all over the United States for two days of cycling in the Bluegrass over Memorial Day weekend.

Regardless of the sport, there's reason to celebrate that Central Kentucky is capitalizing on its beautiful landscape, unique culture and hospitality to create active tourism events that draw thousands of visitors.

State government deserves credit for the leadership and ingenuity that are giving tens of thousands of people access to health insurance.

Many tireless volunteers and all levels of government — state, county, city — make it possible to host events like the Bourbon Chase and the Horsey Hundred, improving our health, image and economy.

Let's keep moving.

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