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WASHINGTON - It was New Year’s Eve 2012, and Congress was amid one of those many middle-of-the-night crisis votes. Members were pulled back to the Capitol right after Christmas to deal with taxes that were scheduled to go up on Jan. 1 for 90 percent of Americans. It was the holidays, and no one was with their family. There was bitter, partisan bickering and angry, finger-pointing floor speeches.
That day, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz was waiting around for votes and stepped on a scale. His weight was the highest he could remember. He was eating a lot of junk food and sleeping poorly and hadn’t done much beyond some weightlifting for as long as he could remember.
Slightly depressed, the former football coach and sergeant major in the Army National Guard decided to try something novel: a New Year’s resolution.
On New Year’s Day, the fiscal cliff averted thanks to both chambers’ predawn voting, Walz bought a journal and kept track of the food he was eating. He also got on a stationary bike and rode for 20 minutes.
A year and a half later and 85 pounds lighter, the 50-year-old finished his first marathon May 25 in four hours and 46 minutes. Last week, while the U.S. House was on recess, he polished off a 30-mile bike ride before heading to the office to meet with constituents at 8:30 a.m. He took first place in the men’s division in a Mankato 5-kilometer run a couple of months ago, running just over six-minute miles.
Walz maintains that his shift in constitution has a bipartisan benefit: He says he’s met Republican runner friends in his district and has plans to do some running along the National Mall in Washington with Republican Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and biking with Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida.
Perhaps more important, Walz says, he has “become a better person.”
“You see things a little differently, you meet people in a different setting,” he said. “Nobody boos you.”
He said he’s more productive than he used to be, he sleeps better, is getting more done and is able to put in longer hours. He also thinks about policy differently, especially health care.
“It’s reinforced my belief that … preventive care is truly the secret. That doesn’t mean I can’t be in good shape and get hit by a car or develop cancer … but when I think about a large portion of our health care dollars are spent on disease and heart disease, I just think we need to incentivize in some ways folks who are making proper choices,” he said. “We haven’t found the magic bullet. It’s personalized it for me.”
Walz admits to being sad about his latest marathon time, the result of a stiff hip at mile 15.
“I finished and woke up Monday morning more committed than I ever have been,” he said. “Now I’m really committed to doing it again.”