Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wellstone, marathons

Today my friend Michael reminded me, via his Facebook page, that October 25 was the day in 2002 an airplane crash killed one of the great American populists of the last 30 years, Senator Paul Wellstone (and his wife and daughter and others) of Minnesota.

‎"If we don't fight hard enough for the things
we stand for,
at some point we have to recognize
that we don't really stand for them."

I met Wellstone for the first and only time just weeks before his death. Me:  running my first marathon, toiling along at mile 24 near the state capitol in St. Paul.  He: running for Senate for the third time, as well as being one of those high-energy, loud guys that sometimes pops out on race sidelines, bellering and half-striding into the street:
"Go get 'em, number 2-7-3-3! You're there! You're almost there."
With Cousin J - October 2002.
T-shirt courtesy of campaign volunteer
at the Twin Cities Marathon start line.

He drew attention to himself:   his 5-foot-4 stature and bald head and furious enthusiasm so distinctive anyway. Since he was mid-campaign, it was logical he would be in town for this major event and within seconds I realized it was him .... and clapping for me, "number 2-7-3-3"!  And I knew I had to go high-five him. At the beginning of the race his campaign volunteers had been everywhere; I had taken and attached a forest-green Wellstone! sticker to the seat of my running shorts on a whim ;.... and ended up being glad I had. Because if you're ever going to run headlong towards a US Senator, uninvited, it's better you be pointing at your rear end (to show support, I swear!) while doing so, rather than pointing at him and provoking his security staff.

 Wellstone and I indeed slapped hands, me yelling, "I ran with your sticker, man!" as I hobbled away.  While I finished that race relatively strong, a few minutes later, the hand-slap was the story I told everyone later.

I've thought of Wellstone whenever I've run a marathon since:  mostly, his energy for everything, his unapologetic advocacy for community and education and the little guy (like me, the 10-minute miler at the end of the race).  And with curiosity as to what kind of politician he might be in this age of the Tea Party intransigence -- he was plenty intransigent himself -- and what he might say to the proclamations of his colleague Michelle Bachmann.

I'll certainly and obviously be thinking of him
when running in DC this weekend.  Wellstone could be an ass, but he was an inspiring ass, and he finished the tasks that he believed in and set out to achieve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A friend and I went to a "gathering" for Wellstone in I believe it was 1989 in St Peter, Minnesota. We were going to Mankato State at the time. No one knew who he was, but you could just feel his energy, his commitment to the cause as he spoke. Running against good ole Rudy Boschwitz, no one gave him a chance, but we all saw the results.

He was an unabashed liberal, something that isn't in vogue, unfortunately, in mainstream politics today.