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Up Close and Sweaty: Gov. Kitzhaber’s Keep-Fit Regime

Friday, August 29, 2014


Gov. John Kitzhaber

Photo Credit: BikePortland.org via Compfight cc

Every day I go to the gym, and every day he’s there: the governor of the great state of Oregon, John Kitzhaber. You can always tell he’s somewhere in the massive gym because of the two stiff-standing dudes with buzz cuts, dressed in windbreakers and ties, perched at either end of the workout areas. 

The governor himself is a little harder to find. In white T-shirt, tight running pants and a nondescript baseball cap, the 67-year-old politician tends to blend in with all the other mature gents who choose to work out in the mid-morning. 

Through some unspoken rule, no one ever approaches the governor at the gym. At least not when he is working out. He sprints (yes, sprints!) from stationary machines to free weights to the spinning cycles like a man on a mission. 

And the truth is, he is. I’ve seen him there on some of the toughest days this state has faced, including the day there was a threat of a tsunami on the Oregon coast. And I’ve heard from sources that the governor’s routines are sacrosanct. I guess that’s why I’ve never seen an assistant with a note pad trailing him, or even a cell phone perched nearby. That’s probably what the big guys are for. If something crucial were to go down, I bet they would whisk him out of there quicker than you could say “Cover Oregon.”

Me, I like that Gov. Kitzhaber works out, and that he does it at an ordinary gym in the middle of downtown Portland. This isn’t some "governator" bent on letting people know the size of his left calf muscle, or a bike-obsessed senator who needs to broadcast just how many miles he pedaled on his last tour of France.

The church of the iron gods

This is a guy - actually, a doctor - who practices what he preaches in the church of the iron gods. 

Maybe he does it for his self-image too. After all, this is the governor who is best known for his all denim ensembles (faded Levi jacket and jeans) paired with a stiff white shirt and cowboy boots. And always a giant, brass belt buckle that looks like it was won not long ago atop a steed at the Pendleton Round-Up. Only a very select group of men can pull off this look without having spent their entire lives lifting bales and shoveling horse manure. It’s a credit to our slim-fit governor that he looks like a regular guy in his nonpolitician-issued civilian clothes. 

Or maybe he just works out so hard for the ladies (and more than a few gents I know). Our governor scores high on sex appeal when you start lining him next to others of his ilk (I’m looking at you, Jerry Brown and Chris Christie). 

Running on the waterfront

Most likely, though, he just does it for himself. I caught him once running the same route I do, down by the waterfront. He was alone, without staff, bagmen or security guards. He was just a few feet in front of me when I saw someone reach out to grab him. It was a middle-aged, small man who was out for a walk and was beyond words that he had actually run into the highest elected official in our state. 

I saw the governor smile and listen intently to what the gentleman had to say. I also knew someone was harshing on his workout.

I yelled to him: “Hey Governor, you need to keep running or you’ll trail behind.”

And that's when the smaller gentleman turned, glared and said: “He is my governor and he is listening to me!”

A few moments later Gov. Kitzhaber peeled away from the man and started back on his run. Not too long after that he veered right and headed out on a trail of his own making.

I bet he just needed to clear his head. Even governors need to do that sometimes.


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