Running on Common Ground — And Liking It

Want a better way to start your day? Want to bridge the divides that too often break us apart in Washington?

Yesterday, a host of Washingtonians — White House staffers, diplomats, journalists, philanthropists, businesses, military personnel, members of Congress — together with our capital city's mayor took to the banks of the Anacostia River to run, jog or walk three miles before work. All for an important cause.

Participants in the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) Capital Challenge signed up as teams. California Rep. Jane Harman (D) headed the "Harmaniacs." Mayor Adrian Fenty captained the Fleet Feet team, Alan Holmer from the Treasury Department headed up the Jacksons and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) helmed Team Ensign.

The cause? The D.C.-based Special Olympics. The race provided a venue for our capital city’s leadership to be civil to each other — I dare say more than civil, maybe even respectful! Imagine finding common ground pounding their feet for three miles on the cement. As Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told me, "Members genuinely feel like comrades in arms. We come together with staff, Republicans and Democrats, wave, offer encouragement and laugh. This is one of the few times that partisan gridlock stops. I see people running and then I see them in the hallway and we have a common bond." Lugar completed his 27th year running the race (and maintained his record of perfect attendance).

Harman told me: "This represents the continuity of friendship and being alive, feeling energized and healthy. When you see a colleague in the halls of Congress, if he or she is a fellow runner or tennis player, you feel that friendship. It absolutely helps us to be better legislators and leaders."

So how did the runners measure up? Ensign is the fastest male senator. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is the fastest female senator. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) is the fastest man in Congress and Harman (who has run a marathon, played tennis with Andre Agassi when he was in town three weeks ago and is more athletic now than when she was 18) is the fastest woman. Mayor Fenty finished in under 18 minutes — less than six minutes per mile. That is serious fitness. So think about it: Republicans and Democrats together, running, laughing, sweating, being healthy, patting each other on the back.

ACLI President and former Gov. Frank Keating, who finished in a respectable time, told me, "This is the only place in town where Republicans and Democrats can run together without elbowing each other."

I think Sen. Ensign summed it up best: "I always enjoy running this race. It brings together both Democrats and Republicans to raise money for a good cause. There's a great deal of partisanship in Washington, but the Capital Challenge consistently provides a bipartisan atmosphere that is able to bridge the red-blue divide, something I think we should do more often in Congress."

As a coach, I always push for health, fitness, fair play and fun. Yesterday’s race for the Special Olympics brought out the best in every participant. The runners all found common ground!


Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership locally, nationally and in the world community.