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Team Effort for Charity

Members Get Ready For Capital Challenge

The business suit, whether made of traditional cotton or luxurious Italian Super 110’s wool, does not always extend comfortably into warmer weather. Still, spring’s sunny weather has finally made its way, albeit slowly, to the nation’s capital. So, in attempts at friendly competition, the bragging rights awarded to the fastest Senator — and a chance to break free from the strict confines of business attire — May 5 marks the 23rd annual ACLI Capital Challenge.

The idea for the unprecedented bipartisan 3-mile race originated in 1981 from a memo written by an inspired, newly titled sports manager Jeff Darman, to the athletic giant Nike. The memo proposed an event that would combine fitness, fun and philanthropy for politicians.

The inspiration was due to the recent influx of negative connotations associated with political lifestyles during the late 1970s and early ’80s. “It was one of those moments in business that rarely happen,” Darman recalled. “I sent the memo in May 1981 and the first Nike Capital Challenge was ran in September 1981 at East Potomac Park.”

The “what,” “when” and “where” of the 1981 Capital Challenge have since been modified, but the nuance remains unchanged. “This is a wonderful event for a great cause. I look forward to the friendly competition,” offered last year’s swiftest female Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

At the flagship 1981 Capital Challenge, roughly 300 political gurus ran trails of East Potomac Park. The 2004 ACLI Capital Challenge reports that roughly 650 democratic doyens will be lacing up their sneakers to race around Anacostia Park.

Despite complaints concerning the move from East Potomac to Anacostia, Darman is confident that the park is the best fit venue for the event. “The park is perfect for this event, they are always very enthusiastic about having us, I don’t see any need to change back” to the East Potomac, Darman said.

The first team entry deadline is today. The second deadline, with a slightly more expensive entry fee, is April 19.

The race’s starting gun will be fired sharply at 8 a.m., a time most Washingtonians reserve for a chai tea latte at Starbucks or a cinnamon raisin croissant at Au Bon Pain, not a 3-mile trot through Anacostia Park. Yet, as those with arguably the busiest schedules around demonstrate, both are feasible. Take for instance former Vice President Al Gore, who ran the race in 1999, grabbed a quick breakfast, showered and was back on Capitol Hill, with slightly damp hair nonetheless, for a 10 a.m. meeting.

The rules of the challenge are few but firm. Every five-member team must consist of at least one member acting as the captain from either the executive, legislative or judiciary branches, or one member of the media who covers these political forums. One member must also be female.

The other teammates’ eligibility differs according to the captain’s respective sector of government. In the past, only a few women from the legislative branch have participated.

The ACLI Capital Challenge awards the lightest foot for both male and female among Senators, Representatives, agency heads, federal judges and journalists.

Teams are awarded with the lowest overall combined times in each of the following categories: media (both print and electronic), legislative branch (both Senate and House), and one each to the executive and judicial branches. Each finishing participant receives a commemorative T-shirt sure to complement any workout wardrobe, and whose color remains a secret incentive to cross the red tape.

But for those whose finesse is more Bill Gates than Bill Rodgers — a four-time Boston marathon winner and this year’s special guest runner — the ACLI will award the team with the best and worst names and the team with the most spirit. Last year’s best name came from the witty media moguls at CBS with “What you C is no BS,” and the name tagged worst, “My Cornyn’s are a Hurtin,” naturally from the team captained by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

All entry fees benefit the D.C. Special Olympics, giving participants an excuse to trade in those wing-tipped shoes and put on a pair of Sauconys — all while allowing for another group of special individuals the same privileges.

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