BOSTON--In October of his senior year in high school, U.S. Senate candidate W. Mitt Romney decided to try out for the cross country team.
In his first trial run, one Wednesday afternoon, he stunned veteran teammates by finishing among the top three.
"Romney, a cross country runner, we found a new star," recalls Colin H. John, Jr., Romney's classmate at Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "All of the sudden he goes out and finishes ahead of the pack."
But three days later, at his first competitive meet, Romney's performance was far from stellar.
The whole school was watching the cross-country race because it coincided with half-time of a football game, John remembers 30 years later. And the finish line was on the track surrounding the football field.
"Over the hill comes the first person, and it's not Mitt. Then, still no Mitt," says John, now an attorney in Southfield, Michigan. "Finally, just as they're getting ready to start the third quarter of the game, the only person who hasn't finished is Mitt. He has just given everything he can give, but there ain't no more, and so he finally staggers into the Cranbrook oval."
Romney embarrassed himself that day because he hadn't trained enough to be successful, John says.
"He was loose as a goose when he ran on Wednesday but now his muscles were all tight and tense," he says.
Today, Romney is in a new race. But this time the prize is a U.S. Senate seat, and his opponent is seasoned incumbent and pillar of liberalism Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.).
Once again, Romney is playing the role of a rookie.
Just like his cross-country endeavor, Romney's political marathon had an auspicious start.
At the Republican party convention in May, Romney received the support of more than three quarters of the delegates. And in last month's primary, he earned more than 80% of the Republican vote and the right to challenge Kennedy.
But the Belmont resident hopes this race, and his political career, will not become a repeat of his short-lived cross country stardom.
The Early Years
Willard Mitt Romney was born in 1947 in Detroit, Mich., the youngest of four children, to American Motors executive George Romney and Lenore Romney.