He grew up in rural Texas, 16 miles from the closest post office and five miles along a gravel road to school. His graduating class numbered all of 13. The sports he played were six-man football, basketball and a little bit of track and field; baseball required too many kids, so it never came up in the conversation.
At military school at Texas A & M, he was forced to run with a rifle over his head, but when he moved to the Air Force, running disappeared from his life. “We only had to run a mile and a half once a year to pass a fitness test,” he says. “Other than that I never ran one step.”
His hatred of running ran so deep that he remembers making a vow at the age of 27, in March of 1977, that unless his life was in danger, he was not going to run ever again.
He was forced to reconsider 12 years later. He was in the state legislature, he was putting in long hours and became what he calls a functional insomniac – getting only two or three hours of restless sleep a night. “One of my roommates was a runner and he told me I should start running,” remembers Perry. “I said, ‘Cliff, if that’s the answer, I’m going to be an insomniac forever.’ But six weeks later I knew I had to try something, so I went out and bought a cheap pair of running shoes.”
So it was love at first run, right Governor?
He laughs. “It was the first time I had run in 15 years and it was as miserable an experience as I remembered. But I decided that I would give it six weeks to see what happened.”
During his fifth week he went out and ran two miles at his usual 10-11 minute mile pace. He came in after the run, sat on the couch and felt a release. “I’ve been running and sleeping ever since,” he admits. “Running definitely saved my life.”
Since 1989 he has run one marathon plus countless half marathons and other road races. He does three or four triathlons a year and vows to do Muddy Buddy Austin next May.
On November 16, Governor Perry was among the 30,000 signed up to participate in the first ever Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon and Half Marathon. “My wife lived in San Antonio and it’s one of my favorite cities,” he says. “But when I heard they were trying to bring a marathon there, I thought ‘Good luck with that.’ But they did an amazing job. It was one of the best races I have run in a long time, nearly a personal best (1:47:46), and the organization was great. I thought the event was perfect. We had great running weather and huge crowds the entire way.”
Every Monday morning he runs with his buddy Paul Carrozza and the Run Tex crew in Austin; and what he loves about the get-together is that no one except Paul ever knows what exactly they’ll be doing. “It sort of depends on what Paul feels like doing,” he laughs.
“I go to a ton of receptions with a lot of different groups, but to me my social time is spent with that group on Monday mornings. I don’t golf or play bridge and I don’t have a lot of hobbies. This is my social club. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Obama or McCain supporter, if you’re a runner you’re part of our group.”
In 2004, to try and combat the obesity epidemic in his state, Governor Perry helped to create the Get Fit Texas Initiative and the Texas Round-Up. “What people don’t realize is that the obesity issue is a 100 billion dollar problem for this country and a 16 billion dollar problem for the state of Texas,” he says. “We’re going to lose a generation of children and I believe this epidemic could bankrupt America.”
The Governor is so visible at events because he believes it’s important for people to know that he isn’t just talking about fitness – he is living it every day. “I’m a big believer that you can’t talk the talk unless you walk the walk,” he insists. “When people see me out running or at the races, I think it sends a message. Running and staying healthy is important to me and I want everyone to know it.”
Recently he has spent time meeting with video game companies, and he has two objectives. One is to get them to bring their offices and their job opportunities to Texas, and one is to push the concept of more interactive games. “We can go after non-competitive kids and get them active through Wii,” he says. “Anything to get them off the couch. I guarantee that if you spend 45 minutes on Dance, Dance Revolution you’ll be sweating like a pig. It’s great!”
His goals are to create more awareness for a fit and healthy lifestyle all over the state and he believes that every city needs to have a designated running trail. “I have run in a lot of cities around the world, and at the end of the day there is nothing I enjoy more than running at Town Lake,” he says.
He also has a dream where one of the Texas-based airlines sponsors a trip and provides an airplane for 150 or so runners from Texas. “We’ll go to Boston or New York or a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon event,” he says. “Then we’ll run the race in our Team Lone Star uniforms as a group to promote Texas as the best running destination in the world.”
I think the Governor would call that walking the walk.
For full results of Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio or to sign up for the 2009 race, go to www.rnrsanantonio.com.
To find out more about the Get Fit Texas Program that Governor Perry helped to create in 2004, go to www.texasroundup.org. Over 214 million minutes of exercise have been logged on the site and there are now 27 cities participating in the program.