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Geocaching keeps Hernando boys' memory in motion

Zak Lukas was a kid who wanted to play every sport and never seemed to stop.

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"We couldn't keep him off the field,'' said his mother, Karen.

By the time he was a junior at Hernando High, he had become a star soccer player and one of the strongest runners on the cross country team.

He was hoping to be named cross country captain the following year and kept on training even after the soccer season had begun.

"Zak just loved to run,'' said Kathy DeLorme, a friend of Karen Lukas' who helped come up with an especially fitting way to remember Zak and his soccer teammate, Jason Lewis.

The two teenagers were stranded overnight in the chilly waters of the gulf after their water scooter had become disabled. Their bodies were found six years ago on Monday.

Despite the depth of the tragedy, Karen Lukas and Jason's parents asked mourners to remember the boys' lives, not their deaths.

DeLorme and her friend Patty Allison have done even more than that. They've kept Zak and Jason moving, or at least their memories.

This is possible because of an obscure sport called geocaching, which is like a global scavenger hunt for adults. Players store trinkets, sometimes with written explanations of their significance, in caches — usually Tupperware containers or weather-tight ammunition canisters.

If you've never heard of the sport, you might be surprised to learn there are nearly 700,000 caches tucked away across the country. Clues on how to find these hiding places are either placed in nearby caches or posted on the Web site geocaching.com.

Allison, whose son and daughter attended Hernando High with Zak and Jason, decided to create a so-called "traveling bug'' in the boys' honor.

A traveling bug is a memento — in this case a roadrunner carved from mahogany — that includes instructions to move it from one cache to another.

In September 2006, DeLorme dropped it off on a mountain above Coos Bay, Ore., the hometown of Zak's idol, Steve Prefontaine — the distance-running prodigy who died in a car accident at age 24.

The hope is that it will find its way back to an ammo can hidden on a hilltop next to a trail in the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest.

"From there, you can see the trail extending out for a long way,'' Allison said. "And it reminded me of Zak out there, running forever.''

Karen Lukas has tracked the bug's journey through the posts of geocache players, most of whom are hikers or mountain bikers who understand Zak's love of the outdoors.

She doesn't mind that it recently took a detour from New York to Washington State. This means Zak will keep moving, she said. It also means more people will learn about his story — people like the man in Montana who was as big a fan of Prefontaine as Zak was.

He wrote that he had skipped school when he was Zak's age to watch Prefontaine's last college race. Afterward, the runner impulsively handed the boy his race number. He posted a photo of it next to the roadrunner on the Web site.

"My condolences on the loss of Zak,'' the stranger wrote. "Maybe he and Pre are running together over some hill you can't see from here.''

Geocaching keeps Hernando boys' memory in motion 12/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 8:09pm]
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