Lugar's Last Race: Indiana Senator Doesn't Take Defeat Sitting Down

NPR icon by Tamara Keith
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The partisan divisions on Capitol Hill are numerous — but Wednesday morning, about two-dozen members of Congress did something entirely nonpartisan. They ran in a 3-mile race for charity, along with their staffs and teams from the executive and judicial branches and the media (including NPR).

The ACLI Capital Challenge is an annual tradition that dates back to 1981, and one senator has run the race every time: Dick Lugar, R-Ind. But Wednesday's race was also his last.

When the now 80-year-old Lugar first started running in the Capital Challenge, his goal was to be the fastest senator. That was 31 years ago.

"In more recent years, we've had more modest goals — like finishing the race," the six-term senator said with a chuckle a few minutes before the start.

Earlier this month, Lugar lost in a tough primary fight, meaning this would be his last time lining up at the start.

"Just looking forward to a good race, lots of enthusiasm, and try to keep the eye on the ball here," Lugar said, sounding as much like an athlete as a senator.

Lugar navigated the 3-mile course at a pace that wouldn't break any land-speed records. As runners passed by him, they cheered and offered high-fives.

"It's awesome," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "I mean, I can't believe this guy's been doing this for 31 years. We're going to miss him next year, but obviously he's had a great run here."

Thune won the medal for fastest senator for the third time in a row, finishing in 18:57.

"It's a bittersweet time for Sen. Lugar," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, just moments after crossing the finish line himself. "This is his last 5K out here for a good cause."

Lugar was one of four congressional runners this year either retiring or forced out by a primary loss. Cornyn said it's just the nature of the business.

"You either leave voluntarily or involuntarily," Cornyn said. "No one's entitled to these offices. We just have to recognize what a privilege it is to represent our constituents for the time we've been given."

Some 45 minutes after the start, a figure appeared in the distance. He had white hair, an orange shirt and a giant grin.

"Making his way to the finish line as he has every year since 1981," an announcer shouted from a loudspeaker. "A big warm Washington round of applause for Sen. Richard G. Lugar!"

To mark the occasion, the race organizers held up a finisher's tape for the senator to run through one last time.

"Obviously, I would have liked to look forward to a 32nd, 33rd, 34th, but, then again, I have been so fortunate to have these 31 great years in good health and spirits," Lugar said, having caught his breath and still grinning from ear to ear.

The race director, Jeff Darman, said a lot of people asked him if the senator would show up at the race after losing his primary.

"Of course," Darman said. "There's just never any question."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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