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Mindful : June 2013
stadium where he played one football game “before I cashed it in.” As a teenager Ryan dreamed of being a pro quar- terback, but a blown knee forced him to, as he puts it, “reconstruct my life.” He’d already been exposed to politics, working in then Representative Ja mes Traficant’s district office and in his office on the Hill. He got a law degree but never practiced, a nd he was, as he describes it now, “just floating a round thinking about what I ought to be doing.” Ryan considered coaching but kept coming back to politics and a desire to offer leadership. He ran for the state senate at age 26, and when Traficant land- ed in jail, he ran for his old boss’s seat in Cong ress. His surprise victory in the primary made him the youngest Democrat in Cong ress the following year. Pat Lowry, Rya n’s district press secretar y and longtime friend, isn’t surprised at how his political career has played out. Lowry tells me that in 1991 Ryan was named player of the year, and the next day “the coaches in the paper didn’t talk about his abili- ties, they talked about his leadership.” Now, he’s a hometown hero. We drove up bucolic Fifth Avenue, then off to his neighborhood in Niles. His house is just down the way from his mom’s. A little farther is the home where his grandparents took care of him. Family is everything. His father left his mother when Ryan was eight, and the family became even more close-knit. As a boy, Ryan found their Catholic church to be a calm- ing place. He smiles when he talks about his g rand- pa rents’ peaceful home where he could always find them saying the rosa ry. They were early role models for mindfulness. “I always think about my grand- pa rents. They worked hard, but it wasn’t every- thing,” he says. “They spent time in the garden, they celebrated birthdays, they went out dancing to big ba nds, they hosted parties and dinners.” We stopped at the church’s souped-up Italia n festival, which seemed more like a county fair. We walked only a few feet before someone called out for “Timmy.” Every where we go he has roots. He ushered me into the beer tent his grandfather used to run. I didn’t get to meet his mom; her shift at the dried-baloney stand wasn’t until the following day. We all ordered the Italian sausage Rya n says is the festival tradition. Eating like this mat ters politi- cally—northeastern Ohio’s Italian a nd Portuguese roots are a distinctive part of the local culture. Ryan taps into that easily; his family embodies his district’s working-class demographic. As I ate one of those giant sausages, Rya n’s sister- in-law was gabbing about how he’d gotten them all into yoga. A discussion among his friends a nd → A Mindful Nation hasn’t generated the same buzz as the typical Washington political tell-all, but it’s done what Ryan wanted: it’s inspired teachers, doctors, nurses, and veterans to contact him about how they’re applying mindfulness practice in their lives. June 2013 mindful 45