Different Race; Different Kennedy

September 30th, 2011 in Articles by 0 Comments

Bob Kennedy, one of the greatest American distance runners of all time, embodies the classic reserved Midwesterner. He doesn’t expound at length to most questions about his athletic past – a past with accolades literally too many to recount in this article. But events are transpiring that may test the comfort zone of this very private track & field icon.

Bob KennedyAn Ohio native who attended Westerville High School near Columbus, Kennedy made his bones at Indiana University – book-ending his collegiate career with NCAA cross-country championships in his freshman and senior years, with some NCAA one-mile and 1,500-meter titles thrown in for good measure. In what amounts to a double parenthetical element, Kennedy also won the 1987 Kinney (now Foot Locker) High School Cross Country championships his senior year at Westerville High, then won the 1992 USATF Open Cross-Country Championships immediately after his senior-year NCAA cross-country win at IU.

Now a successful businessman with a chain of running specialty stores in Indiana and Kentucky, Bob Kennedy is an ancillary participant in another well-publicized race: His wife Melina is the Democratic nominee in the mayoral election for the city of Indianapolis.

Melina Kennedy espouses a number of ideals common to her party – strong schools, the arts, and the environment – but she is not afraid to leverage her experience as a small business owner (she co-owns the BlueMile running-shoe stores with Bob) to underscore her commitment to fiscal responsibility and a jobs plan.

She refers to Bob’s athletic accomplishments (and her own as an 800-meter runner at IU, where the couple met) when she addresses physical fitness and childhood obesity – problems that affect Indianapolis and problems she plans to address as mayor. And although these references are far from grandstanding by any measure, one wonders which character trait will win out when it comes to Bob Kennedy: his deep-seated privacy or his competitive spirit.

Liking this story? You should like our Facebook Page too!


“I have not known Bob to be heavily involved publicly in the campaign thus far,” says Larra Overton, a fellow Indiana University track and field standout – now a reporter with the Big Ten Network. “I would not be surprised to see Bob be more involved as the campaign progresses. However, I see him letting Melina’s platform and personality carry the weight of the campaign.”

“He is very, very modest,” Melina notes. “I don’t think he could tell you where his Olympic jerseys are today.  He tends to accomplish great things and then just move on.”

Considering Bob’s reticent nature, he might very well stay on the sidelines of his wife’s political race, but an interesting over-under bet might be at what point his competitive drive kicks in. When asked what he missed most about professional running, Bob replied very succinctly, “The thrill of competition.”

That drive is nearly palpable when he responds to a question about his biggest rush as an athlete:

“Walking into the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta for the final of the 5,000-meter run was a rush.  Being an American athlete in an American stadium was really cool. The Olympics are an amazing experience.  In 1992 I was 21 and like a deer in headlights. I made the final and finished a distant 12th.  In 1996 I was more seasoned.  I took the lead with two laps remaining, running 1:57 for my last 800 meters, but finished 6th.”

Be it in athletic arenas of the past or political arenas of the present, do not confuse drive with blind ambition. In the Kennedy clan, drive goes hand in hand with discipline. When advising young athletes, Bob profoundly stresses the discipline of execution.

“Understand what you are trying to accomplish with each run and/or workout.  Recovery?  Threshold?  Endurance?  You have to run workouts properly in order to accomplish the goal for each session.  If you over-run a recovery run, for example, you have not executed the day’s workout with discipline.”

For Melina, a similar discipline is needed to solve Indianapolis’ problems related to crime and unemployment – although athletic life and political life certainly share some similarities.

“Running in college… you need to have a plan; you need to work hard and be prepared for the unexpected,” she says “You don’t want to let your team down.  There are lots of parallels  in public life where you have to address each challenge in a similar way: having a plan, working hard, and being prepared for the unexpected.  You always want to have your team’s (city’s) interest at heart.

“Now it is about sharing my vision for the city with as many voters as possible.  To do that, there is tremendous grassroots outreach, which I really enjoy.  [But] there is also fundraising so that I can advertise, which is not nearly as fun, but it is also necessary.”

Bob retired from competitive running in 2004 after a string of injuries and the birth of his twin children. The pressures of a mayoral race aren’t making it much easier on Melina.

“I try to commit to running three times a week,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember I ran twice a day, every day, in college. But for now, I’m satisfied with a more modest routine. Running is good physically, but it also helps clear my head.”

During his competitive career, Bob Kennedy inspired countless scores of young people to take up the sport and train hard for the chance to represent their country – transitively providing them fitness and discipline in the process. If Melina Kennedy wins the mayoral race for Indianapolis, another Kennedy will further those ideals.

You can follow her campaign at  www.melinakennedy.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @melinakennedy

Dillon Buckley, a junior distance runner at Amherst College, and Rick Miller, Faster Than Forty co-founder, coauthored this story. You can reach them both in the comments below or at the Faster Than Forty contact page here.


Author: FasterThanForty

Leave a Reply