Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Usain Bolt and the Heaviest Place On Earth

"God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."
~Eric Liddell

Laird Cunningham is an artist, storyteller, MK* and Bible school dropout, born and raised in Papua, New Guinea where his parents did Bible translation work. Our paths crossed at an art opening this summer at the AICHO** downtown here in Duluth. Having known more missionaries than the average person, I thought it would be interesting to pick his brain a little so I suggested that we go over to Pizza Luce for a little something to accompany the finger food we'd eaten at the opening.

The Rio Olympics' closing ceremonies were on the tube in the bar area where we ended up because the restaurant was filled due to an event happening that weekend. Laird told me he was 26 though he hardly looked eighteen and was carded when we ordered drinks. The pizza took forever, so he ordered a second while I was still sipping my first. By the time our pie arrived he'd become quite loquacious.

He said there was nothing more thrilling than the Olympics, though International Soccer did score a close second. He had an affinity for all things global. His second big interest was the supernatural. Not God, per se, as I might have expected. Rather, he was drawn to things that defy science, that break the rules of nature, the supernatural and extra-ordinary.

Just as he was saying these things the announcer on TV mentioned Usain Bolt, the phenomenal runner from Jamaica who captured three gold medals and set a new world record as the "world's fastest human." Laird paused, then looked straight at me and said, "I met him."

"Met who?" He could have been referring to the announcer.

"Usain Bolt. He was training in New Guinea."

Bolt is from Jamaica so I thought this guy was being funny, or had had too much to drink. But the former MK insisted he was serious.

Anyways, here's what he told me. There's a place southwest of the _______ Bay (I missed the name) within a half day's journey from where his parent's lived/worked/did Bible translation -- he promised to email me this information, but never did, or at least hasn't yet -- where the gravity is heavier than normal. It's a region not much larger than a football stadium, a large disc-shaped clearing in the middle of nowhere. The terrain is perfectly flat except for the objects that can be seen scattered over it, which I will describe shortly. A flimsy, bright green grass grew over the perimeter.

It's very spooky because when you look across you can see this circle of bones, mostly animal bones but human skeletal remains as well. What causes this is that the closer one goes toward the epicenter, the heavier the gravitational pull. Animals that go too near end up collapsing, unable to lift themselves to leave the place where they lay. Carnivores, drawn to the decaying animals, end up collapsing if they go beyond a certain point. It's weird. Birds of prey seduced by the easy pickings end up flattened against the surface. This has probably been going on for centuries.

"My parents said that about 25 years ago researchers from somewhere in Europe had been here. They, my parents, were concerned about the region being disrupted by someone publishing scholarly papers about the effect, thereby attracting civilization's curious, disruptive influence, but after the scientists left nothing ever came of it," Laird said. "Then, about ten years ago, someone came up with the strange idea that there might be something useful that could come of this. They drilled a well, outside the clearing, and built several small barracks-like structures. Something like a running track was built all the way 'round the outside. I was still living there are the time, very curious to see what would happen next. Then the runners showed up. They were from Jamaica, which seemed odd to me, but my father said there had been some connection between one of the researchers and these people from the Caribbean.

"One of these runners was Usain Bolt. There were only a few who had come, and most of these were uncomfortable with this high gravity training center. A few were totally terrified and refused to even stay. Bolt was not like these. His eyes were brightened by it.

"The way things worked, the closer one got to the center, the greater the pull, so Bolt was doing 100 yard sprints as a 400 pound man. On the outer edges, naturally. At the Olympic Games the talking heads kept repeating how effortless it all appeared when Bolt ran. That's because it really was nearly effortless. He won his first gold medal in Beijing, and -- so I have been told -- has been returning regularly to this remote training center to renew his strength."

As the evening wore on Laird told several other stories about his parents and the strange tribal customs of primitive peoples they worked with. He also talked about his art -- he said he paints -- at which point we exchanged email addresses so I could interview him here and share some of his work, influenced in part by his childhood experiences, including an encounter with a black leopard that he believed was trying to communicate with him.

I first wrote about Usain Bolt here in 2008. Now we know the rest of the story.


* Missionary Kid
** American Indian Community Housing Organization 
*** Robert Ripley evidently wrote about this unusual gravitational phenomenon in the early 1920's

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