RINEYVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Brenda Tiffany never considered herself much of a runner and certainly never imagined she would ever participate in a long-distance race.
But that was before some friends approached her about a memorial 5K/10K run in honor of her son – Joseph Cameron Ponder, the Kentucky State Police trooper who was shot and killed Sept. 13 following a traffic stop in southwestern Kentucky.
“I told myself, I am going to cross that finish line,” Tiffany says of the big race, which takes place Saturday at North Hardin High School -- the place where Ponder ran track and graduated from in 2002.
So in the middle of winter, Tiffany began to train. She started with short jogs down her long, country road, stopping first to talk with her three horses, Tyson, Charm and Star.
"I go out my door, I say hello to my horses and I start praying from the minute my foot hits the ground," she says. "It's an outlet for me - the prayers are the most passionate prayers. I really feel them and I feel that Cameron is right there with me running."
Ponder trained with the Navy SEALs and was a sprinter in high school - but he hated long distance runs.
And Tiffany had never run more than a mile.
"When I wake up in the morning, some days it's hard to get out of bed," she says, pausing for a moment to collect her thoughts. "I'll never get over Cameron being gone and that hole will always be there, but I have to find a way to honor him. I want to do that."
Aimee Hunt is organizing the 5K/10K along with her husband, Brad. Both were classmates and friends with Ponder.
All proceeds from the Trooper Cameron Ponder Memorial 5K/10K will go towards a scholarship that will be given to a high school senior from Hardin County.
"He was just the most friendly person, he never met a stranger," Hunt said, adding that the goal of the race is to honor Ponder for "how he lived his life and what he stood for, not how he died."
"I want him to be remembered as a hero," she said. "A hero is someone who exemplifies bravery and ingenuity...that's Cameron."
They had hoped to have at least 200 participants in Saturday's race.
"At last count this morning, there was 534 participants," Hunt said. "It's overwhelming. It's just kind of taken off and gone way further than we thought it would."
There is not a moment that goes by that Tiffany doesn't think about her son. The past seven months have been unbearable at times.
She gets emotional when she thinks about the support she's received since that day.
"You know Cameron...I knew he was an amazing person but I didn't realize how many people he touched in his life," Tiffany says. "This race shows it and all of the support that we've had over the last seven months...it's just incredible and it never stops."
In preparation for this weekend's race, Tiffany also registered for and participated in two races -- a 5K in March to honor fallen Richmond police officer Daniel Ellis, and a race last week in Berea where she accidentally ran a 10K instead of a 5K.
"I missed my turn," she says with a laugh. "I just said to myself, 'Alright, Cameron. I know you are messing with me. I'll show you I can get this done."
Often times, it's Ponder that gets her to the finish.
"I'll be about 2 miles into it and I'm ready to stop and I'll be feeling that push, it's like he's telling me 'don't stop keep going you can do this you got it' and I just keep going. I couldn’t do it unless he was there to carry me through.”
Tiffany says she also thinks her son would get a kick out of her new-found hobby.
"He'd be laughing at me because he never liked running...but I think he'd be very proud," she said. "I think Cameron smiles down at me. He'd be glad that I was doing something healthy."
During the opening ceremony on Saturday, a three-man team will bring down an American flag, the Kentucky State Police flag and a Thin Blue Line flag from 5,000 feet. The KSP flag was made by Walker Flags out of Louisville and was donated for this event.
In addition, Kentucky Pork Producers, the Hardin County Cattleman's Association and the Hardin County Young Farmers Association have donated over 500 pork burgers and hamburgers for the race.
Runners can still register for this weekend's race, which starts at 9 a.m.
Hunt is asking that all participants arrive at North Hardin High School no later than 8:15am, Saturday morning to get their race packet.
Tiffany says she wants to thank the hundreds of people who have reached out to her since Ponder's death.
There have been cards, coins, flags, wreaths, paintings and many other momentos -- many inscribed with Ponder's name and badge number, 954.
"People shouldn't be afraid to approach someone who has lost someone," she says. "I don't want my son forgotten and I love talking about him. I cry all the time so they don't need to be afraid to make me cry - I just want him to be remembered."
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or@tkonz on Twitter.
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