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Passion for Paddling

Rep. Portman Practices Kayaking in the House Pool

Whether he’s navigating the rough waters of the Little Miami River or the halls of Congress, Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) doesn’t let his kayaking form slip.

The slight man from Ohio has an adventuresome kayaking history that he maintains even while on the Hill: He practices the sport regularly in the pool at the House gym.

“It’s a release for me,” the 47-year-old Portman said, “a way to get away from the pressures of the job.”

Portman keeps remembrances of his sporting passion — a fire-engine-red kayaking helmet and photos of him and his family canoeing and kayaking — on the desk in his Cannon Building office. He went on a kayaking tour of the Grand Canyon in 2001.

He usually kayaks on the Little Miami River, less than 4 miles from his Cincinnati home. But spending so much time in Washington kept the five-term Member from the water.

After getting permission from the House fitness committee to use his kayak in the pool, Portman takes up one lane about once every two weeks to make sure he maintains his form.

He is not the only Member who is an avid kayaker. Reps. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.) also have a history of kayaking.

Portman, however, is the only Member to go as far as getting approval to bring his kayak to the House pool, though Baird occasionally uses Portman’s kayak in the pool.

“I had trouble finding time to practice my roll,” Portman said, referring to the underwater maneuver vital to kayakers to bring themselves back to the surface when they flip. Portman uses the House pool to perfect his rolls, even working on the more complicated hand-roll, in which the kayaker does not use a paddle to bring himself back to the surface.

Portman has continued his enthusiasm for the sport and Ohio environment by participating in the inaugural Ohio River Paddlefest along the Ohio River last year. Portman and 400 others paddled 9 miles in an amateur race.

“It’s underutilized,” Portman said of the river. “It is a lot cleaner than it used to be.”

Portman will participate again in the second-annual Paddlefest this June in an effort to call attention to the river as a outdoor resource for Ohio residents.

Portman’s love of kayaking dates to his early childhood when he grew up as an accomplished canoeist. He continued his love for the outdoors in college by joining Dartmouth College’s famed Ledyard Club, a canoeing and kayaking group.

The Congressman, who plans to participate in a race at his 25th reunion this summer at Dartmouth, still has a glint in his eye when he describes his adventures kayaking in college. He vividly recalls the six-month, 1,200-mile Dartmouth Ledyard Kayak Club kayaking tour starting at the source of the Rio Grande River in in Colorado and continuing to Albuquerque, N.M.

“We were the first group ever to do the entire Rio Grande,” he said. “There was a lot of flat water, but it was still a great time.”

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