Magazine article Insight on the News

Congressmen Run the Course

Magazine article Insight on the News

Congressmen Run the Course

Article excerpt

Many members of Congress schedule time into their day to go running on Capitol Hill. Don't look now, but one of those joggers along The Mall may be your congressman.

Jim Ryun of Kansas was on his way to a gold medal in the 1,500 meter race at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Just 500 meters short of the finish in his qualifying heat, he fell. "I had focused all training and energy for a full year on that one event. Now it had been stolen from me," Rep. Ryun, R-Kan., recalls on his Web site. But the congressman did earn a silver at the 1968 Olympics and broke and held world records -- and today still finds time to run and race, as do a surprising number of his congressional colleagues.

Presidential contenders George W. Bush and Al Gore both run regularly to stay fit. Gore's spokeswoman says he doesn't run his regular five miles every day because of his campaign schedule, but he fits in what running he can with the help of a treadmill aboard Air Force II. And Bush told the nation on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he runs three 7.5-minute miles every day -- joking that this is "another reason I should be president." Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., attests to Bush's discipline, recalling that every time the Republican presidential candidate visits the Land of Opportunity he requires that a half-hour be scheduled between meetings so that he can run.

Some, such as Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., even make time to train and compete in such major races as the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Frist, running for reelection, says he sees similarities between running a 26-mile race and running a six-month campaign. "What happens in the first mile or the first week is important," Frist tells Insight, "but that will not determine the outcome of whether you're successful. The aches in your knees and ankles at mile 18 or 19 are similar to the many defeats or downers incurred at month four or five of a campaign. Both require persistence and both require working through challenging and difficult times."

According to Frist, a physician and heart-and-lung transplant surgeon, preparation is key. "To run a marathon and finish, you need to spend a year in training. A good politician doesn't wait until a few months before election to start campaigning." In either type of race, says Hutchinson, you'd better be cognizant of your opponent.

Frist and Hutchinson were among 13 senators and 19 representatives, including Olympian Ryun, who participated in the recent Capital Challenge, a three-mile race held in Washington in mid-September. The race, open only to elected members of the federal government, their staffers and Washington media, raises money for the Special Olympics and makes a point of spoofing politics. For example, during the event this year, a loudspeaker announcement informed racers that croissants and other breakfast refreshments were available; however, the speaker joked, only one refreshment per member was allowed because any more would be considered a "gift" under federal lobbying law.

The competition was quite keen as Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., lost his long-running title as fastest male senator to Hutchinson, who only had been running for nine months. Hutchinson says he started for the health of his heart and has "fallen in love" with the sport. He also says senators are amazingly competitive and admits his own competitive spirit took hold when someone in his office told him Nickles' winning time in last year's race. "My goal was to pace myself, and I kept waiting for Don to pass me but he never did."

Hutchinson chuckles as he recounts Nickles' words after the race: "He didn't know I was ahead of him and he told me `You snuck up on me! I don't know whether I could have beaten you, but if I had only known!'"

As in any political race, a win in these contests is a matter of pride, and the "Fastest Man in Congress," Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., defended his title with the best race time on the Hill this year. …

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