UnCommonwealth: Catching up with three standout Lexington children

Five-year-old Caleb Marshall played some chess with some UK students in the W.T. Young Library in April.
Five-year-old Caleb Marshall played some chess with some UK students in the W.T. Young Library in April.

Zach Pickard, the Lexington boy with the rapid-aging disease progeria, continues being his sunny self, according to his mother Tina Pickard.

We first met Zach as a baby, shortly after he was diagnosed with the disease, which affects a handful of children worldwide. Now Zach is almost 9 years old and in third grade.

As Zach has grown, he has noticed that he is smaller than other children, with a bald head, more prominent veins in his head and less body fat.

You can take Zach anywhere and he adapts.

Tina Pickard, Zach’s mom

“He’s learning a little bit more about progeria,” Zach’s mom said. “He knows it’s a shorter lifespan ... but he also knows he’s been on medication since he was 3 years old. So who knows?”

Zach will start another drug trial in 2016. He takes an art class and recently painted a piece that was auction at a fundraiser for the Progeria Research Foundation; Zach loves art. Zach’s older sister, Brittany, recently graduated from the University of Kentucky.

Although Zach gets a lot of attention at progeria research fundraisers, Tina Pickard said that the attention “hasn’t affected him, hasn’t gone to his head.”

“He wakes up and smiles at me every single morning,” she said. “You can take Zach anywhere and he adapts.”

Master of the cube

When we talked with Lucas Etter in April, 2014, the strength and speed of his problem-solving ability was obvious. He attributes it to algorithm memorization, muscle memory and practice. Etter was already one of the best competitive “cubers,” a winner in a series of competitions for quick solving of Rubik’s and other cube devices.

1.69 secondsLucas Etter’s record average time to solve a 2x2x2 Rubik’s Cube

Whatever the routine that made him champion, it was obvious that Etter was going to do great things. Already he was the Guinness World Record co-record holder for “fastest average time to solve a 2x2x2 Rubik’s Cube,” at 1.69 seconds.

On Nov. 21, Etter, now a Henry Clay High School freshman, solved the 3x3 Rubik’s cube in 4.90 seconds, a new world record.

Cube manufacturers are now awarding Lucas cash and sponsorships to support his travel to competitions. Being a world record holder has brought Lucas worldwide attention.

“It’s been a media whirlwind, I tell you,” said Dana Mendenhall Etter, Lucas’ mother.

A chess trophy as tall as a kindergartner

Caleb Marshall, the little fellow who appeared destined to make a big splash in the world of competitive chess, has fulfilled that dream.

Caleb, who is in kindergarten, tied for first place at the United States Chess Federation’s Grade Level National Tournament in December. He received a trophy nearly as tall as he is.

When Caleb and his father Brian were interviewed in April, Caleb said that although he loved chess, basketball was “funner” and he liked to go for an after-chess lesson treat of McDonald’s chicken nuggets with his dad. The two continue that tradition.

4the age Caleb Marshall took up chess

Caleb studied chess problems and learned new tactics, even playing games with himself to map the strongest moves for both black and white pieces. One of his coaches praised Caleb’s “inner motivation to play great chess.”

Since we first talked with Caleb, he has turned 6 and gained a deeper understanding of the game, through learning to use algebraic notation, and understanding that occasionally even a very talented player can lose. Brian Marshall notes that Caleb recently nearly beat a player in his 50s with a rating of 2000 — a high ranking.

After one game, Caleb told his father: “Dad, I was a little down in that game. I was down a couple pawns, I was a little nervous. ... But I stayed focused and won.”

Brian Marshall said his son goes into games with more of a sense of anticipation: “What he will say is, ‘We’ll see. You never known who’s going to win. ... He doesn’t mean to be humble, but that’s essentially what it is.”

Caleb took up chess at age 4, his father said in April, and “just took off. He wanted to play every single day, one to two hours a day.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman