You meet a lot of people and collect a lot of stories while writing columns over the course of a year. With the clock ticking down on 2012, here are four I won't soon forget:

  • Keiron McCammon was lucky to escape with his life when his paraglider crashed into power lines in Colombia six years ago. He was knocked unconscious, his left hand rendered useless and right leg severely burned. Fifteen surgeries later, when he returned to his Danville home, his hand had been amputated above the wrist and his leg pieced together with harvested skin.

    He stared misfortune in the eye and refused to let it define him. He took up distance running and cycling with his wife, Kerry. He competed in triathlons -- an arduous combination of swimming, cycling and running events -- and collected pledges for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. He shared lessons learned about overcoming obstacles at speaking appearances and wrote about them on his website, http://onehandedblogger.com.

    "At some point, you learn to survive," the 41-year-old McCammon said. "The question is whether you want to take it to the next level and challenge whatever happened to you in the past. My way was to push myself."

  • From the time Jeffery Baker earned his law degree at the University of San Francisco until he was sworn into the California State Bar on Sept. 6, he married, raised three daughters and enjoyed a successful career as an insurance adjuster. In the meantime, 34 years passed.

    "If that's not a record for the longest time between graduating law school and passing the bar, it's got to be close," the San Leandro resident said.

    When he wasn't occupied with work or family duties, he'd open the books and study deep into the night for another run at the exam. He tried eight times before succeeding. If passing had once beckoned as means to an end, it evolved into its own reward -- and a remarkable story of perseverance.

  • Austin Ogden's logic for running for the Dublin School Board made sense. As the only candidate who was a product of Dublin schools, he brought a fresh perspective. What distinguished him further was that only a year earlier he had been a Dublin High School senior.

    If not for his boyish appearance and yes-sir manners, you might not have known he was 18 years old, competing against three incumbents twice his age. He put in as many as 70 hours a week, plotting strategy, raising money, knocking on doors and securing endorsements.

    That he came up narrowly short of victory -- he received 22.3 percent of votes cast in a four-candidate race for three spots -- was testimony to the will power of an undaunted underdog.

  • With each pedal stroke of his 545-mile bicycle trek on the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles AIDS/LifeCycle ride in June, Concord police Officer Todd Nunn thought about his late mother, Claire.

    As a divorced parent, she worked 15 years as a respiratory therapist to support her two sons, before a tainted blood transfusion after back surgery infected her with HIV. "She was devastated," he said.

    Nunn, now married with three children, came back from a knee ligament tear and gall bladder surgery to train for the fundraising event. A few weeks before the ride, he suffered back and neck injuries in a collision with a drunken driver, but he was undeterred.

    He earned $6,000 in pledges in his mom's name. We think she'd be proud.

    Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.