U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley
May 30, 2013

When Charles Grassley turned 65 - 14 years ago - the veteran U.S. senator started taking notice of the surroundings in nursing homes, watching the residents for more than just their reactions to his campaign and policy points.

He really studied them, because, well, he was, using Medicare and the AARP to define his station in life, one of them, a senior citizen.

"I was chairman of the aging committee so I was invited to all these nursing homes," Grassley said. "And I saw how difficult it was for the recreation director to get older people in a nursing home to do just little things like kick a big ball or wiggle their fingers."

So Grassley started running, really running, and hasn't stopped as he approaches 80 - which may help explain the endurance required to visit all 99 counties every year, in addition to maintaining a grueling congressional schedule.

Speaking to about 50 members the Jefferson Kiwanis Club early Wednesday morning, the senator said he generally runs 3 miles a week four times, trying to do most of it in Washington, D.C., when his schedule is split between the nation's capital and Iowa.

His first 3-mile time in a race at age 65: 27 minutes, a pace of 9-minute miles. On May 15, in the Capital Challenge race, Grassley posted a time of 32:52 on the 3-mile course in Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia Park, Runner's World magazine reports.

"I figure every year you get over 65, you lose a half a minute," Grassley joked in Jefferson's Uptown Cafe. "The only good thing about this year was I ran 14 seconds faster than I did last year. Maybe I've turned a corner."

Grassley said he started running with the support of a Sac County native, Scott Stanzel, a 1991 Sac City High School graduate.

"It's the only New Year's resolution I've ever kept," Grassley said, giving Stanzel credit for that.

Stanzel completed an internship in Grassley's office and then served for nearly three years as the Iowa Republican's assistant press secretary in the late 1990s. Stanzel later went on to work in the White House as a spokesman for President George W. Bush.

For his part, Grassley will be running in a 5K (3.1 miles) Waterloo Days event this coming Saturday - and invites all Iowans to join him.

"If I'm out on town meetings, I've got to take two bags with me," Grassley said. "One for my gym clothes and one for the other."