After spending a week in Washington recently, exercising and sleeping within sight of the Capitol, I've got to tell you about my newfound political ambitions. In particular, I have a yearning to defeat four members of Congress, and I plan to show no mercy once I'm ready -- starting with Rep. Lindsay Thomas, Democrat from the first district of Georgia.
Lindsay is 44, and so naturally healthy and athletic that germs probably run the other way when they see him. He is a family man and an outdoorsman: A dozen pictures of his wife and two children plus a dozen more pictures of ducks, dogs, and the Georgia coast line the walls of his apartment.
A pair of mud-caked hunting boots lean against the master bedroom closet wall. It isn't hard to imagine Lindsay, rushing from Georgia for a close vote, making mud prints down the halls of Congress.
And he's no slouch when it comes to his daily workout: 75 push-ups, 150 sit-ups, 20 chin-ups, and then a quick workout with five-pound dumbbells. During it all, he chatted with me with the effortlessness that southern cooks put into shelling butter beans.
Thomas, however, isn't perfect, which is what you must remember when I run against him. After he found out I was somewhat under the weather, he arranged for me to go jogging with several other members of Congress, and he made it very hard for me to say no. "It's the only time I've ever called a group of congressmen who all said yes," Lindsay said. Turns out their staffs are interested in the Conch Man.
Anyone who is a friend of the Conch Man is a friend of mine. I, therefore, pulled myself out of bed at 6 the next morning, walked over to the steps of the Capitol with Lindsay and Conch Man coordinator Eric Jensen, and was introduced to the competition.
Republican Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island arrived first, stepping out of her car with a crisp energy that matched the crispness of the morning air.
The 40-year-old congresswoman also has a particular appreciation of good health. Fifteen years ago Rep. Schneider was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease. Her doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of surviving. She met that news with courage, not despair. "I decided to fight. Within 48 hours of my diagnosis, I decided not to give in."
Sticking to that determination was not always easy. "The treatment really was worse than the disease," she said. "For six weeks, I had radiation therapy daily. My hair fell out. I sat in the waiting room and watched the same people coming in looking worse every week. I began to think I was going to die." Instead, she began to focus both her physical activity and her objectives in life. "When you're faced with death, you ask what has been your contribution," she says. She was elected to Congress in 1981.
Schneider has always been an outdoor, hiking-biking person, but she did not begin jogging regularly until coming to Washington. "I was working more but having less energy," she said. A two-mile run six days a week has brought the energy back.
I thought I could probably outjog her ... until I gauged her fitness level. As much as I liked Schneider, I thought I could probably outjog her ... until I gauged her fitness level: She warmed up by running back and forth between our group and the steps of Congress (about a quarter mile). Two trips and the congresswoman breathed no harder than a cool summer breeze.
Rep. Mike Andrews didn't make me feel any better, either. He is 44, a Democrat from Houston, and has that healthy, rugged look that cowboys on "Dallas" all have as they mosey up to South Fork in their Mercedes convertibles for a poker game. Mike, like Lindsay and Claudine (always call your competitors by their first names) looks young enough to make me wonder if he's carded before ordering drinks in the congressional dining room.
Other than using my famous tripping technique there didn't appear to be a steer's chance in Texas of me being branded anything but a loser by his athletic prowess.
Rep. Buddy MacKay, Democrat from Ocala, Fla., is 54, a real fine age for me to jog with normally.
"Do you do much exercise?" I asked innocently. Buddy looked a little tired this morning, a nice thought. When he said, "Well, I really jog very little, but I do a lot of gardening for my exercise and mental well-being," Buddy looked like a real friend in need.
"Well, what type flowers do you plant the most?" I asked.
He looked a little puzzled for an instant. "Oh, that's not what I meant by gardening. I cut down trees with an ax, hoe ditches, chop a few cords of wood. You know, stuff like that. And run a few miles between each chore." He flexed a very powerful arm and I smiled thinly.
Well, by then, as a soft morning sun began to rise over the Capitol dome, I had given up thoughts of victory in my first congressional race. About that time, Rep. J. Roy Rowland pulled up as we began our final stretches.
A physician from Dublin, Ga., Rep. Rowland is 62 and a Democrat. "I only started jogging when I was 50 and, boy, was I out of shape," he volunteered. Rowland hadn't really exercised much for 30 years until he started to jog. And even now he doesn't have an organized exercise plan. But as he continued to talk -- detailing his workouts in the congressional gym, long solitary jogs around the Mall, and a diet of low fat foods -- my dreams of congressional supremacy over at least one incumbent evaporated with the morning mist.
Until Rep. Rowland pulled me aside for a moment. "Remar," he said, "I'm going to run for a mile or two, but I have to leave you before the run is over. An early morning meeting, you know."
I looked around to see if his comment had been overheard. It had not.
Without waiting, I began to run, waving the group forward, keeping Rep. Rowland as far from the pack as possible. "Don't worry about dropping out when you need to," I said helpfully; "I'll tell the others you've got a meeting."
He nodded, and about a mile down the road he peeled off, waving as he circled back up the hill.
"Roy! Where are you going?" the group yelled. I peeled off, too, following Roy Rowland.
"Don't worry, guys," I yelled, "I'll make sure everything's okay and meet you on the other side of the Mall." The congressional contingent jogged on its healthy way.
Thus, thanks to Rep. Rowland, was I able to postpone my contest with these very robust forces without losing face. I plan to run again against these incumbents when the flu bug doesn't have me in its grip. I will be training hard like all good Conch Outs and doubtless will not need the face-saving assistance of anyone. I do have J. Roy's phone number in my wallet just in case.
Conch Out Update More then 1,400 people now are in training for the Conch Man Mini-Triathlon, and our volunteers are running behind in mailing calendars and preparing the newsletter; expect both soon.
In the meantime, here are the answers to three frequently asked questions:
Can we divide an individual event? Can two people each run half of the 4 mile run, for instance?
That you can't do. But if you are capable of running two miles or swimming a half mile, you are capable of going the whole distance. Keep training.
Can we substitute rowing machines, etc., for our swimming training if we don't have access to a pool?
Yes, for now. Any good upper body work that utilizes your arms, back and chest muscles will help you. Some gyms have machines that replicate the swimming motion closely. These substitutes will not help you handle the water, but can help until your outdoor pool opens.
If you can't bike outside, start walking stairs. The newsletter will address this issue in detail.
"When will actual race applications and transportation/housing packages be available?"
The Conch Man plans to mail out applications April 1. Housing and transportation package information will be sent out in mid-April. All Conch Outs will probably have until June 1 or later to actually commit to participating in the Conch Man.
Finally, thanks to all of you who wrote to volunteer your help. We'll be in touch.