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Paul Ryan, here in Milwaukee on August 12, maintains a famous fitness routine. His dad passed at age 55 from heart disease.
I first interviewed Paul Ryan one-on-one at the House GOP retreat in Baltimore in January of 2010. It was the day after he'd sparred with President Obama when the president made the case for his policies for what was, at the time, the minority GOP Conference. Ryan was in Baltimore with his wife and kids and was respectful, but understandably anxious to be done in order to spend time with his family.
Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos via Getty Image
Ryan wards off fellow politicians during a flag football practice on the Mall in 2009.
I peppered the congressman with questions about the health care law and budget priorities for an interview a colleague would use on Nightly News. When we were done, we exchanged pleasantries and he got up to leave. After about 15 seconds, he came back in the room and asked me, "How old was your dad when he passed from heart disease?" I told him, "58." He said, "Mine was 55. My grandfather and great-grandfather both died from heart issues in their 50s, too." He then asked me if I was into fitness and inquired about my workout regimen. He told me to run more and that I needed to work up a sweat at least five days a week. We both joked about how preventative fish oil supplements had a bad aftertaste.
Much has been written about Ryan's notorious P90X workouts and physical discipline. At one point he was a personal trainer in Washington to help pay the bills. Aside from the obvious health benefits, from many personal conversations I've had with him since that day in Baltimore, I believe Ryan keeps himself so physically fit in order to downplay the anxious feeling all children of heart disease victims have — the dreadful thought you could be next.
I can attest that this feeling spurs you to accomplish as much as possible because the idea that you're on earth for a limited time is imprinted in your mind daily. Ryan was elected to the House at 28, was Chairman of the House Budget Committee at 40 and now is his party's presumptive nominee for vice president at age 42. He's already accomplished in 42 years what most politicians would hope to do in a lifetime.
So while Ryan is no doubt inspired by his faith, family, party and desire to shape the country in the ways he sees as best for the future, it should not be lost where much of his drive comes from — personal loss.
It's an interesting dynamic, especially when juxtaposed against the inspiration Mitt Romney and Barack Obama drew from their dads and a testament to the influence fathers have, long after they're gone.
Luke Russert is an NBC News correspondent. His father, "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert, passed away in 2008.
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