Jessamine County

'Can't' is foreign to pair of newsmakers

In the end, our search for the Most Intriguing Kentucky Newsmaker of 2008 turned out to be a two-man race.

Make that one man and one boy.

Readers cast nearly 8,000 votes, with 80 percent of them going to either Adam Bender or Pearse Lyons.

So we declared them co-winners: Adam, the 9-year-old Lexington boy whose success at leading a regular life after losing a leg has inspired millions; and Lyons, the Irish scientist and tireless Kentucky promoter who has created a worldwide animal nutrition company.

On Wednesday afternoon, the two of them got together at Lyons' Alltech headquarters in Nicholasville.

"This is my hero," Lyons said as he greeted Adam and the two posed for cameras.

Adam's mom, Michelle Bender, said the Most Intriguing honor comes at a great time for her family.

They have just started the Adam Bender Foundation, whose goal, she said, is helping future Adams and encourage diversity in youth sports.

"What we want to do is start trying to educate people that just because a child is physically different ... that doesn't mean they don't have abilities, and some have remarkable abilities."

Adam, who lost a leg to cancer at 1, is an accomplished athlete. A Herald-Leader video of him playing baseball has been seen by more than 2 million people.

Adam can also wakeboard at the beach and play soccer.

Lyons, a biochemist who came to Lexington in 1977 to work for a British company that produced brewing additives, started Alltech three years later with a $10,000 investment.

It now has offices and sales around the globe, although it might be best known locally for its Kentucky Ale.

Lyons has traveled around Kentucky to encourage public-private partnerships and innovations as a way to lift the state.

His company has given money to numerous causes, including scholarships. With $10 million contribution, it became the chief sponsor of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that are coming to Lexington in 2010.

We offered 24 choices for Most Intriguing Newsmaker, including men, women, two horses, a frog, a business and a tree. The co-winners were followed by silver-medal Olympic swimmer Elaine Breeden; Eight Belles, the filly who broke down after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby; and a 300-year-old bur oak tree that escaped the developer's bulldozer.

The contest lasted a little over a week, and at the top, they turned into a mutual admiration society.

First, Lyons called the Herald-Leader to say he wanted Adam to win. Then Michelle Bender wrote to Lyons, saying she and husband, Chris, were honored that their son was in the running with "someone as influential and generous as you."

Lyons' reply: "If I could encourage one person to persevere the way your son has, I would really feel that I have achieved something."

So it came to pass that Adam was sitting in the big chair behind Lyons' desk Wednesday, with Lyons bringing him a cup of tea and Adam saying thanks, but he is a Coke drinker.

Lyons also asked Adam to come back for a tour with his third-grade class from Seton Catholic School, and joked that the boy could someday take over the whole company.