Months of 3 a.m. wake-up calls and fitting in about 30 miles of running a week with her busy schedule of congressional votes, constituent meetings and fundraisers have led Rep. Kyrsten Sinema to Boston, where she hopes to complete her 10th marathon Monday in honor of someone who will never cross the finish line.
The Arizona Democrat is running for 8-year-old Martin Richard, one of three people who died last year when two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Members of his family were among the more than 200 wounded. His sister lost her right leg, and his mother lost vision in one eye.
"Before I was in politics, I was a school social worker and I worked with children. The idea of a little boy being senselessly and tragically killed during what is supposed to be one of the happiest days of one's life, it was really upsetting," she said. "We really carry all of those survivors and victims in our hearts when we run."
Ms. Sinema ran her first full marathon in 2011 and was immediately hooked, she said. Although she isn't one of the fastest and doesn't have a lot of natural ability, she said, she crosses the finish line by relying on the mental fortitude it takes for athletic endurance and congressional service.
"I think what endurance sports teach you is to stay dedicated, stay focused, and also to understand you're going to have ups and downs, but you need to keep running right through them," she said.
The congresswoman finished an Ironman triathlon in November. She runs three days a week, bikes two days a week and swims two days a week, and often finishes her workouts before the sun comes up. She trains about 20 hours a week in addition to casting votes in Congress, attending committee hearings and flying across the country for events in her home district every weekend.
Ms. Sinema has used fitness to build relationships with members on the other side of the aisle, including Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, whom she sees at the congressional pool some mornings. She said Mr. Griffith is a much better swimmer than she is.
Mr. Griffith said using the pool is a way to get to know his House colleagues, who have hectic travel schedules and spend little time socializing outside of the chamber.
"There are people you know and like, but it doesn't mean you're going to agree," he said. "But that doesn't mean we can't get along as human beings and try to work together where it's not a philosophical issue."
Ms. Sinema has forged legislative bonds while running with Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican.
"During the shutdown, we went running together on the Mall, and I talked to him about a piece of legislation. He ended up becoming the co-sponsor of a bill about veterans' suicide," she said.
Ms. Sinema's marathoning is unlikely to be politically charged as it has been for Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. During his 2012 vice presidential campaign, Mr. Ryan boasted that his personal best time in his younger days was "two hour and fifty-something."
Runners World was unable to verify that time, and Mr. Ryan recanted. It turned out that he had run only one marathon, at 4 hours, 1 minute.
Fellow politicians started accusing Mr. Ryan of serial truth-stretching. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, gibed that he probably could run faster than Mr. Ryan, 30 years his junior.
Ms. Sinema's personal best marathon time — 4 hours, 29 minutes — was at the Phoenix Rock N' Roll Marathon a few months ago. She hopes to set a personal record of 4 hours, 15 minutes in Boston.
The congresswoman was in a meeting in Washington last year when she saw television footage of the Boston Marathon bombings. A few days later, after a run with a group of girlfriends in Phoenix, they decided to run in Boston this year.
"I wanted so badly to be a part of making it better. There was nothing I could do as an individual or a member of Congress to take it away, so I thought about what I could do to make it better," she said.
Ms. Sinema said she is raising money for three charities: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Greater New England; the One Fund, which helps cover medical bills for marathon bombing survivors; and the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, which invests in the 8-year-old's biggest interests: education, athletics and community.
Ms. Sinema and the seven friends running with her have raised more than $40,000, split among the three charities.
The Boston Marathon is the top goal of many distance runners because its history dates back to 1897 and because the majority of participants need to qualify by running another marathon within a certain time. This year, 36,000 people will toe the starting line. Of those, more than 5,000, including Ms. Sinema, didn't qualify but are able to run because they have raised money for charity.
Ms. Sinema said her next challenge will be a Half Ironman in June; training for another full Ironman is too taxing in an election year. When campaigning becomes difficult and she wonders why she puts herself through the stress, she thinks about what it's like in the middle of a marathon and what it feels like crossing the finish line.
"Two-thirds of the way through, you really don't want to be doing it. You think, 'Why am I doing this? This is crazy, I should quit.' But you push through that and you finish, and you get excited and happy and realize you just did something humans shouldn't be able to do," she said. "Congress is a lot like that. When I first started campaigning, I was really excited. Two-thirds of the way through, I thought, 'Why am I doing this?' Then I got really excited when I realized I was going to win."
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