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‘Bipartisan bigwigs’ de-stress at 2023 ACLI Challenge

Sinema, Gallagher claim fastest in Congress

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., congratulate each other after finishing the ACLI Capital Challenge 3-mile race in Anacostia Park on Wednesday.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., congratulate each other after finishing the ACLI Capital Challenge 3-mile race in Anacostia Park on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A 3-mile road race would normally be a breeze for a runner of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s caliber. 

The Arizona independent completed the Boston Marathon last month and is a regular triathlete. 

But to defend her title as fastest woman in Congress, she had to contend with a recent bout of food poisoning while competing Wednesday in the 2023 ACLI Capital Challenge.

“I had a rough day, but I still won so it was OK,” Sinema said cheerily, showing no signs of fatigue as she collected two trophies — for fastest female in the Senate and fastest female in Congress, the latter of which she’s claimed eight times. She completed the course along the Anacostia River at a brisk 22:10.

Sinema was one of a group of more than 600 runners from all branches of the government, as well as members of the news media, to participate. Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey, then a member of the House, is the lone participant in the inaugural race still in Congress. 

Markey, now 76, did not lace up this year. But several of his Senate colleagues ran, including Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., alongside Supreme Court Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson, House lawmakers and executive branch officials. 

“A whole bunch of bipartisan bigwigs in Washington, D.C., representing all branches of government, as well as the media, just ran 3 miles for 3.3 million kids,” Susan Neely, CEO and president of the American Council of Life Insurers, which began sponsoring the race in 2004, said after the race. 

The event, which began in 1981, raised $150,000 this year for Junior Achievement USA, a nonprofit that runs financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship programs for students from kindergarten through high school nationwide. (Editor’s note: CQ Roll Call is a participating sponsor and fielded multiple teams.)

Nathan Bickell, a judicial law clerk and former collegiate runner, ran a blistering 15:08 to earn first place overall. Emma Kumer, of The Washington Post, was both the top female runner and the first female journalist to finish, with a time of 18:50.

The fastest man in Congress, now for the sixth time, was Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., a Marine veteran who ran the race in 19:57, just 11 seconds slower than his 2022 finish.

“All these very type-A, competitive personalities that work in this city to make a difference bring all that spirit to the race,” Neely said. “I guess it’s how they manage stress.”

With a potential default on the nation’s debt looming and negotiations lagging, there’s plenty for Washington’s bigwigs to be stressed about. But the race provided an opportunity for lawmakers to engage in some friendly trash-talk and consort with people across the aisle, as well as across branches of government.

“It feels great to be out here with staff and great to beat my fellow Senator Joe Manchin — not that we’re competitive,” said Capito, who after Wednesday now holds the record for the female member in Congress with the most Capital Challenge races under her belt, at 17. 

She finished well under the 30-minute goal she’d set for herself and only 5 seconds behind Warnock. 

“Yeah, he [Warnock] wasn’t gonna let me beat him,” Capito said.

“I wasn’t out here to break any records, I was trying to avoid breaking anything,” an out-of-breath Warnock said just after finishing.

In addition to being the fastest male senator, Warnock’s team – Rev on the Run – won best team name, edging out A Vox on Both Your Houses, from Vox, and the Naked Shorts, from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The AARP dominated the worst-named team category, with both the Titanium Hipsters and the Memory Laps earning recognition.

“This race was almost as tough as my run-off,” continued Warnock, who squeaked by Herschel Walker in December to defend his Senate seat.

Other prominent runners were similarly modest.

Kavanaugh, who has been a regular participant in the ACLI challenge since his days as a circuit court judge, downplayed his rather quick time of 23:57. He deflected questions from fellow runners after the race by saying, “My time is: I’m here,” and complained about how he finished off the run.

“That third mile was not ideal,” said Kavanaugh, whose team — Running Circuit — won the award for quickest of the judicial branch contestants.

John Podesta, White House senior adviser, who ran in 2000 as part of the Clinton administration and in 2014 as part of the Obama administration, and Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., were similarly nonchalant as they chatted pre-race.

“I have not run in a really long time but my team really wanted to do it. And I will do anything to make my team happy,” Jacobs said. Her goal was simply to finish in time to make it to a 9 a.m. House Armed Services Committee meeting.

Podesta, meanwhile, said he runs almost every day and averages 30 miles a week. Even still, he set a low bar.

“I’m 74 years old so as long as I can finish, I’ll be happy,” Podesta said. He ran an impressive 27:12.

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