Ready to Race

SGMA Challenge Is Wednesday

Posted May 2, 2003 at 4:37pm

Competition in the capital city is always fierce, but never is the battle between the legislative, executive and judicial branches as pronounced as when the annual SGMA Capital Challenge rolls around.

The bipartisan 3-mile road race, sponsored by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, settles the question of which branch of government is the fittest.

This year’s race is scheduled for Wednesday, with the starting shot fired promptly at 8 a.m. The event pits teams of five against each other on a flat course in Anacostia Park.

The rules are firm: A Senator, Representative, Cabinet member, sub-Cabinet appointee, federal judge, or broadcast or print journalist must actually run with the team to qualify. The president is also welcome to captain a team.

Legislative teams must have members from their own chambers, meaning Senators’ teams must have Senate staffers and Representatives’ teams must have House staffers. Similar rules apply to the executive branch, where sub-Cabinet agency heads must fill their teams with members from their own agencies.

“Transportation uses transportation staff, Energy uses their staff and the Justice Department will likely try to do whatever it wants,” Jeff Darman, director of the SGMA Challenge, joked.

Each team pays a $60 entry fee (those who registered after April 7 paid $80), and SGMA donates all fees collected to the District of Columbia Special Olympics. The race draws upwards of 700 participants each year.

Awards are handed out to the best teams in each division as well as to the individual “Leaders of the PAC.”

“We have fun at the same time we are providing an opportunity for others to experience the thrill of competition, too,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who organizes a team.

Hutchison returns with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) this year to defend their titles as the fastest male and female Senators. Their winning times last year were 36 minutes, 38 seconds and 21:12, respectively.

As fast as those Senators are, they still aren’t a match for Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). Gordon remains “The Fastest Man in Congress,” and he is planning on dusting off his running shoes one more time in hopes of retaining his title. Gordon, whose time last year was 17:37 has won the race for fastest member each year he has entered since 1988.

“It feels better at 54 to win than at 39,” Gordon said.

Juggling a new baby, wacky weather and a full Congressional schedule left Gordon little time to train before the race. While he used to run the race in fewer than 17 minutes, he has reassessed and hopes to keep it under 18.

He was glad to hear that even if his pace declines drastically, he’ll be eligible for another type of award in a few years. SGMA gives awards to the top three captains between the ages of 60 and 69 and the top captain 70 and above.

“I hope they keep those awards around; I may need them,” Gordon said with a laugh. “There are a few young bucks around the floor now that look like they might give me a run for it.”

While the Congressional teams may feel quick on their feet for their category, the Navy teams competing in executive branch category consistently sweep the fastest overall times as well as fastest overall team titles. Last year’s fastest time was Richard Cochran at 14:46.

Teams that aren’t quite as fast as the Navy or don’t have the benefit of senior-age status can always shoot to win one of the special awards: best team name, best spirit or the James B. Kenin award for worst team name.

Last year’s winners were The Washington Times with “Feet Based Initiatives” for best name; the NPR team “Faces for Radio, Feet for the Road” for Best Spirit; and the worst name went to Ensign’s team, “We’ve Got the Runs.”