Heard on the Hill

When Tillis’ Staff Called Him an Idiot and Lexie Left Him for Dead

North Carolina senator recalls passing out at charity event last year

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., will be back for the 2018 ACLI Capital Challenge 3 Mile Team Race. Here he is at last year’s race flanked by legislative correspondent David Simons and Senate Armed Services staffer Samantha Clark. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After last year’s ACLI Capital Challenge 3 Mile Team Race, Sen. Thom Tillis’ staffers told him he was an idiot. And the North Carolina Republican didn’t disagree.

Tillis started last May’s charity race on the first hot day of the year without hydrating. He’d eaten sushi the night before the run. He passed out along the course and was taken away in an ambulance.

“I’d lost 30 pounds in four and a half months,” he recalled. “I’m taking off, running hard, I get about a quarter-mile from the end. I could tell I was starting to feel a little lightheaded but I heard somebody behind me say, ‘Sir, are you OK?’”

“I’m pretty sure if somebody’s asking me if I’m OK, I’m not OK,” Tillis said. “The news report was that I collapsed — I actually walked over to the curb and just sat down. Apparently, I laid back. I didn’t have a bruise or anything on me. And passed out.”

Tillis Wants to Set the Record Straight on His 2017 ACLI Mishap

Rumors immediately swirled that the senator went into cardiac arrest, or worse.

“Everybody says I was convulsing, my heart had stopped,” Tillis said. “It was like that Monty Python scene, ‘I’m not dead yet!’”

Looking back, he laughs about the incident, which he calls purely a funk.” 

“One of my running experts in the office said, ‘That was a really stupid thing to do.’ In fact, I think my staff called me an idiot,” Tillis said.

Another staffer, digital media director Lexie Hosier, ran right by her boss sprawled on the ground, which earned her the nickname “Left for Dead Lexie.”

“She didn’t know it was me on the curb as she was running a little bit slower,” Tillis said. “She just passed. She said, ‘I saw somebody there, I didn’t know who it was.’ I said, ‘Oh, thanks a lot.’”

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The senator’s first thought after he regained consciousness was to tell his wife and mother he was OK.

“The moment I came to, I said, ‘Get [press secretary] Adam [Webb], have him in the ambulance, everybody’s going to have me dead before I get to the hospital,’” he said.

Tillis is back for this year’s ACLI race on May 16, and this time he jokes he’ll have a camera on him so everyone will know if he passes out again.

Organizers expect more than 600 participants for the event, which raises money for the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation.

[Thom Tillis Is Putting On the Grits]

Tillis now runs every other day, but he plans to pace himself this year, happy to let his friend Sen. Tom Cotton beat him. The Arkansas Republican was second among lawmakers to Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher last year after being the fastest in 2016.

“I’m not trying to keep up with Sen. Cotton. Why on earth would I try to do that? The guy’s … 17 years younger than me. The question is, will Sen. Cotton be able to run my speed when he’s 17 years older?” he laughed. “And he probably will, to be truthful. He’s in incredible shape.”

“I’m 57 years old for God’s sake. I should be able to run slower,” he said.

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