Iraq veteran John Kriesel may be bone tired, but he's won an election and published a book.
John Kriesel, joined by author Jim Kosmo — who wrote the first-person biography of Kriesel’s life titled “Still Standing” — shook well-wishers’ hands as he signed copies of his book at Farmington’s Patriotic Day celebration at Farmington High School on Nov. 4.
It had been about 40 hours since retired Staff Sgt. John Kriesel was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
He allowed himself to sleep about six of those, and he spent the other 34 signing books, giving news interviews and making other public appearances.
"I've never been more tired in my life," he admitted to an admirer, as he autographed his recently published book at Farmington's Patriotic Day celebration last week.
The confession would have been normal for any first-time elected public official. But Kriesel already has been through hardships few can imagine: The 29-year-old survived losing both his legs to a 200-pound roadside bomb in Iraq. How could a political campaign compare to that?
But Kriesel swore it was true.
"I've pushed myself further than I ever had," he said. "I couldn't have imagined two years ago if you said 'Go knock on thousands of doors.' I would have been like, 'No way I can do that.' ... I pushed myself physically as far as I could go and there were days where I was sore, I mean every step I took hurt. But I thought about how important this is, what's riding on it."
The Cottage Grove native, with the help of a Segway and his two prosthetic legs, knocked on doors for almost a year during his campaign to win the House seat for District 57A, which includes parts of South St. Paul and Cottage Grove, and all of Newport, St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island Township.
He was part of the wave of Republicans -- in the state and the nation -- who reclaimed majorities from Democrats. But for Kriesel, who used to work in a Minneapolis ink factory and joined the Minnesota Army National Guard at age 17, the win wasn't about party ties.
"In the military it didn't matter what party you're from or where you lived, what your background was or any of that. Whenever they gave us a mission we worked together to get it done," he said. "And that's what we need at the Capitol. Ultimately, that's why I decided to run for office."
Kriesel described himself as a "regular guy." As the guest speaker at the Farmington event, he told his life story to a full auditorium of students, veterans and families, peppering his speech with jokes and advice.
He spoke about how his life changed dramatically on Dec. 2, 2006, when the armored Humvee in which he was riding in Iraq hit an improvised explosive device, killing several of his comrades and leaving him nearly dead in the sand.
"I was a knucklehead growing up," Kriesel said. "I have a little bit of knucklehead still left in me, but it was this incident that opened my eyes. And when I woke up at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] that was truly the first day of my new life, and for some strange reason I'm happier now than I have ever been in my entire life."
It's Kriesel's way of turning even the most bleak event into a positive that is his power, said author Jim Kosmo, who wrote the first-person biography about Kriesel's life titled "Still Standing."
"He's just an upbeat, positive guy," Kosmo said. "So he had that going in. In fact, his guys that were with him [serving in Iraq] said the biggest loss when ... he was injured was that he was the guy that kept everybody happy and up."
After Kriesel's speech, people lined up to get books signed and pictures taken with the Iraq vet.
Among those inspired was Dan Muller, 29, of Farmington.
"When he got wounded, when he came back, instead of feeling sorry for himself, he picked himself up," said Muller, who bought two books for Kriesel to sign.
As Kriesel prepared to leave the high school at the end of the night, he mentioned that what he's most looking forward to after the election hoopla dies down was spending more time with his wife and kids.
"It's like I was deployed again," he said about preparing for the election.
"Now that the campaign's over, I just look forward to being a family."
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495