The Romney Olympics have long included a mini-triathlon of biking, swimming and running that pits Mitt and his five sons and their wives against one another. But after Mitt once nearly finished last, behind a daughter-in-law who had given birth to her second child a couple of months earlier, the ultra-competitive and self-described unathletic patriarch expanded the games to give himself a better shot.
Now they also compete to see who can hang onto a pole the longest, who can throw a football the farthest and who can hammer the most nails into a board in two minutes — not exactly the kind of events they’ll be giving out gold medals for in London this month.
By day, the Romneys kayak and water ski — one sport at which Mitt excels — play tennis and basketball, stage a “home-run derby” and horse around on a slip-and-slide. Most of the grandchildren (there are now 18) put on a talent show on a stage that Papa, as they call Mitt, constructed in the backyard. And he helps them roast s’mores over a campfire and leads them on treasure hunts. He grills chicken and salmon and teaches the kids how to drive his lawn tractor.
At night, the adults gather for family meetings, with each evening focused on a frank and full discussion of a different son’s career moves and parenting worries.
Each member of the family picks a daily chore from a “chore wheel,” so as to share cleaning tasks evenly. And before anyone departs, everyone poses on the lawn for a portrait for that year’s Romney family Christmas card. The grandchildren coordinate outfits; last summer, the girls wore matching orange and yellow polka-dotted dresses and the boys, blue checkered shirts.
How Romney vacations at his $8 million estate on Lake Winnipesaukee — with his time structured around competitive sports, household chores and group activities — offers a rare window into the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s rhythms and proclivities.
Even as the close-knit clan embraces the childhood pastimes of a bygone era, summers here serve to enforce the bond of the primacy of this family. Trips to Wolfeboro are controlled and mandatory. There is no opting out.
One summer when Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, now 42, was working for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he told his father he wouldn’t make it to Wolfeboro. Baseball, after all, is a summer sport, and he didn’t think he could take a week off in the middle of the season.
“My dad said, ‘No, you will make it,’ ” Tagg recalled in an interview. So he showed up, noting, “I had to beg forgiveness from my bosses at the Dodgers.”