The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The long, strange saga of Harry Reid and the exercise band

(J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
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More than 10 months ago, Sen. Harry Reid's life changed forever. The Nevada Democrat and Senate minority leader was exercising in his home with an elastic band when it snapped, throwing him into cabinets, causing him to lose sight in his right eye, changing his marriage and, ultimately, playing a role in ending his career.

On Tuesday, Reid and his wife, Landra Gould, filed a lawsuit against the maker of the elastic band he was using that fateful day. The lawsuit might or might not be the beginning of the end of a nearly year-long drama filled with frustration, conspiracy theories and political intrigue.

Here's a timeline of how it all went down:

Jan. 1: The accident

A resistance band that the 75-year-old Reid is using to exercise at his suburban Las Vegas home snaps and hits him in the face, causing him to fall. He breaks multiple bones around his right eye and, as he hit the floor, multiple ribs. He is rushed to the hospital by his security detail and released the next day. His office releases a statement on Jan. 2 announcing the fall and saying his doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

Jan. 6: Congress begins without Reid

Reid flies back to Washington and says he plans to be present at the start of the new Congress. But when Jan. 6 comes, he does not show up. Thirty minutes before the Senate is set to gavel in, his staff releases a statement saying he's working from home. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) opens the Senate in Reid's place on the Democrats' side, after reading a statement from Reid on the Senate floor. Durbin, who visited Reid in the morning at his home, later tells reporters it looks as though Reid went through a windshield.

Jan. 6: Reid shares what happened with the world

Later that afternoon, Reid releases a video from his home, showing his right eye badly bruised and bandaged. The former boxer promises, "I didn't get this black eye by sparring with [professional boxer] Manny [Pacquiao]."

Jan. 6: The conspiracy theories begin

But alternative theories about Reid have already started. Blogger John Hinderaker points out there is "zero evidence" Reid destroyed his eye in a fight but asks the question anyway: "I think it is questionable whether we are being told the truth about what happened to Harry Reid."

Jan. 9: Reid announces he's temporarily lost vision in his right eye

In his first interview since the accident, with Las Vegas radio station KNPR, Reid stresses his workout bona fides while sharing new details on what happened: Three days a week, he aims for 250 sit-ups, does “yoga-type stuff” and resistance-band work. That's what he was doing on Jan. 1, he explains, using the second-strongest band when it snapped, “and it catapulted me backwards and to one side, and I crashed into a series of cabinets we have." Reid also says his right eye has pooled with blood and recovery of his vision is "not a slam dunk."

Jan. 20: Reid returns to work

Exactly 20 days since the accident, Reid returns to work at the Capitol, his eye still bandaged. He will not attend that night's State of the Union, though. His staff hands out the above photo showing Reid in his Capitol Hill office.

Jan. 22: Reid says he's planning on running for reelection

An eye-patched Reid gives a press conference in his office, announcing he'll undergo surgery to reconstruct the bones around his right eye. He also bats away doubts about whether he's running for reelection in 2016: "At this stage, I’m fully intending to run," he said. Hailing from a swing state, Reid was one of the most endangered Senate Democrats in 2016. He acknowledges there are "rumors" about how his eye got damaged and doesn't rule out a lawsuit against the exercise-band maker.

Feb. 10: No really, he's planning on running

Facing persistent doubts about whether the injured Reid is up for a tough reelection battle, Politico reports that Reid has gathered his staff and told them, "I'm running."

Feb. 24: Reid gets a new look

His eye still on the mend, Reid shows up to work with a new look: sunglasses. "We're working on my beauty here," he jokes. He says he can see out of his right eye, "just not very well." The memes begin.

His staff hangs a photo of Reid's new outfit in their press room:

March 27: Just kidding. Reid won't run for reelection.

Reid phones a handful of confidants in the early morning of March 27 to tell them what he's about to share with the world: He's ending his three-decade congressional career at the end of his term and will not run for reelection. It is, by and large, a surprise. Reid films a video saying it's time to spend more time with his family, crediting the down time during the week after the accident for helping him realize this. He says the injury itself had nothing to do with his decision, though.

March 27: The conspiracy theories simmer

Rush Limbaugh takes an underground conspiracy national, saying on his radio show that he doesn't "believe for a minute" that an exercise band caused Reid's injury. "Harry Reid looks like and is acting like — and now with this announcement, behaving like — somebody who might have been beaten up." Reid does have a history with Las Vegas mobs; in the late 1970s when he was Nevada gaming commissioner, his wife found a car bomb under the family's station wagon. But that was then. Independent Nevada journalist and pundit Jon Ralston tells The Post's David Weigel, then with Bloomberg, that "the whole mobster thing is just insane."

That doesn't stop conservative Web site from, a few days later, publishing the results of their "investigation" of Reid's home, showing floor plans they claim demonstrate that the bathroom where Reid was reportedly exercising isn't big enough for said exercise.  Reid's staff declines to respond.

April 8: Reid goes on a media tour, discrediting mob theories

Reid spends the first week or two of April on a media tour addressing his career, his decision to retire and, of course, that exercise band. Univision's Jorge Ramos asks Reid if his injury really was caused by an exercise band, becoming the most mainstream journalist to to date to ask that question. Reid replies that of course it was:

"I had a big, that thick (Reid gestures with his hands), that I had been using for about four years and I was, you know, trying to maintain my firmness and that was my weight training. I was doing that in my new home here in Nevada and a big metal hook that came out from the wall that was hooked there that the strap had no handle on it, slipped, spun me around, uh, about, oh I guess four feet (Reid points with his right hand to the wall of the interview room) and so I smashed my face into a cabinet so hard ... "

Reid also says he's lost vision in his right eye, perhaps for good.

Oct. 6: Reid and his wife sue the band maker

NBC reports Reid and his wife that announce they are indeed suing the exercise-band maker, Hygenic Intangible Property Holding Co., the Hygenic Corp. and Performance Health LLC, for $50,000 in damages. The lawsuit calls the elastic band "defective (and) unreasonably dangerous," and according to NBC, "particularly for the elderly who might have trouble gripping it without handles." NBC reports that the suit also "seeks damages for Landra Gould for the loss of marital consortium."

To be continued.