A Different Kind of Racing
May 2012 21

Getting out the vote! Waving signs on the bridge during morning rush hour.

A month ago I returned from an intense 3 month training block in Australia. My return coincided with the crescendo of my mother’s yearlong campaign to become Portland, Oregon’s next Mayor.  I thought the world of elite sport was tough; let me tell you, the world of politics is even more brutal.

My mother entered this race as a political unknown. Although she helped to build several landmark businesses in Portland, was a leader in the nonprofit sector and was appointed by the Governor to help fix the healthcare crisis in Oregon, she has never held elected office.  Despite being a political outsider, she shot out of the gate and quickly became the front-runner in a race that had 22 other candidates, including her two main rivals (white male career politicians).

Marching to stop school budget cuts

She successfully out fundraised all of the other candidates by building a tremendously broad based grassroots coalition of support.  To my knowledge this level of success is historically unmatched by any political outsider seeking citywide office in Oregon.

The daily schedule on a high profile campaign trail is considerably more grueling than any day as a professional triathlete.  My mom worked from 6 am – 10 pm, 7 days a week, for a year without a second of downtime to herself.  Throughout any given day she would be researching public policy, speaking in front of thousands of people, meeting with donors, and having constant dialogue with various mainstream media sources.

Media Frenzy

There was never a moment where she could let her guard down.  Few people I know could have handled this workload or pressure, but my Mother being the amazing individual that she is, remained poised and focused every step of the way.  More impressive than anything to me is the fact that she didn’t need to run for Mayor, and open her life to inevitable public scrutiny.  She has already has an incredibly successful career by anyone’s standards. However because of her core values and integrity she felt compelled to take on this challenge due to her belief that she could help create a better city and life for the citizens of Portland.

Not only was my mother’s tireless dedication to this cause inspiring, but also equally impressive was the dedication of my family and the volunteers.  After hearing about my mother’s early momentum in the race many perfect strangers reached out and dedicated thousands of hours of work to the task of getting her elected.  I am blessed to come from a family that consistently supports one another.

Giving a speech for Women's Rights on the steps of the Capital Building.

Through divorce, marriage, business success and failure, triathlon, heartbreak and love, my family has remained a cohesive unit of uncompromising support and strength. I am so proud that throughout the rigors of this campaign, this powerful family bond remained stronger than ever. Winning this race became more than just my mom’s goal, it became the goal of our entire family.   Every one of my siblings, my step dad, significant others, ex-step parents and family friends passionately poured their hearts into the campaign with every spare moment they could find.   It was one of my greatest thrills in life being on a team, working toward a common goal, with everyone dearest to me.  I only wish I could have been home for more of the year to contribute to the cause.

After leading in the polls for nearly a year, 10 days before the primary election my mom saw the electorate shift away from her.  And in a shocking and sudden turn of events, she lost her grip on the race and fell to a disappointing third on election night disqualifying her from a run off in November. Very few people, including her opponents, would have predicted this outcome.

I had a few cycling kits made to represent!! Go Team Eileen!

There are many speculations on what went wrong in these last few days, including a strong belief that that print media waged an unfair and editorialized sexist negative campaign against her on the front pages of their newspapers. However in this blog I will resist the urge to be a Monday morning quarterback, and leave the speculation to the professionals.  Bottom line, despite all of the hard work and sacrifice, we lost the race.

As with professional athletics or the crazy sport of politics, I think the Dalai Lama said it best:

“When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

Of course, after such a taxing year in the public eye and sudden defeat, it will take weeks, months or even years for my mom to fully take stock of all of the lessons from this campaign.  My hope is that when the dust settles that she will see that although the election returns did not turn out in her favor that her ambition to dream big and take a risk inspired thousands.  I’m certain that her ambition will not die with this election. Without a doubt she will leverage the political capital, name recognition and broad based support she has in Portland to influence positive change in the lives of her fellow citizens.

"Keep Portland Weird" The family together after the famous Mayoral Doughnut eating contest. The random things you have to do to become Mayor...

Her lessons will be for her to share, but I will leave you with my own lessons from this chapter:

1)   My mother is one of the strongest and most inspiring people I know.  I could not ask for a better role model.

2)   There is nothing in life more important than the love and support of family and community.

3)   Success is measured in love. The top of the Olympic podium (or an election win) can be either the happiest or loneliest place on earth. That outcome depends on what you sacrificed to reach that end. My mom never compromised her family or integrity in the pursuit of greatness.

4)   “Remember that great love, and great achievement involve great risk” – Dalai Lama

5)   I’ve never been so proud to be a part of my family.

Just two days from election day. After all this hard work she's still smiling. A true inspiration.


  1. t.a. barnhart says:

    nice post, Colin. it was so cool to see you come into town & get hard to work for Eileen. as i’ve said repeatedly, for me, the best part of this campaign was getting to become friend with you & your entire family. the election is over but the friendship continues.

    and good luck getting back into training.

  2. Sattie says:

    Nice article, Colin. I’m glad you took the time to write it. Your mom is indeed amazing.

  3. Mike Radway says:

    Colin, nearly 40 years ago I had the pleasure of working on my father’s campaign for statewide office on the other side of the country. He, too, lost, but nothing I have ever done felt so good as working on his campaign. I suspect that 40 years from now, regardless of your other accomplishments in life (and they appear remarkable already), you will feel the same way. Tis better to have run and lost, than never to have run at all.

  4. tom koehler says:

    Colin – beautifully said.

  5. Sarah says:

    Colin, this is so wonderfully stated. Great post. I’m sorry the election turned out as it did. I am truly disappointed in the outcome. I am excited to see what the future holds for her. Lots of love!!!

  6. Brian Brady says:

    Great post Colin! Thanks for writing this. I loved every part of it.

  7. Erin says:

    I love the lessons you learned and the insightful experience you shared! Thank you.

  8. Alex Tinker says:

    Thanks for sharing this Colin. Everyone knows running for office takes a lot of courage on the part of the candidate. Less known is the courage and toughness it takes on the part of the candidate’s family.

  9. David Dickey-Griffith says:

    Wow, I just made the connection. Let me just say that as a fellow Lincoln grad who has (like you) watched a parent make an unsuccessful bid for public office I definitely get where you are coming from. Politics is a contact sport, and sometimes the refs play favorites. Fortunately, it’s not the only game in town.

  10. David Lacey says:

    I Understand why you are my Friend, thank you for allowing us to be part of this race. Always a winner

  11. Lisa Smith says:

    Your mother is a champion, through and through. She is an amazing human being who risked and invested much to serve the people of Portland. Had she become Mayor, over time she would have helped make the city a model for the rest of our ailing country. Instead, we must be content — for now — with the lessons we are able to take away from her campaign. For me, the biggest single lesson is that honesty, integrity and commitment to progressive values matter a great deal. How the voters chose a man who lived outside the city and refused to pay municipal taxes, but continued to cast his votes there, over your spectacular mother is absolutely beyond me. What were they thinking?

  12. Jordan Bilyeu says:

    A great perspective. Your mother is indeed incredible. She is, in fact, one of the most amazing people I have ever witnessed. Colin your writing style is excellent. You would do well to write a book.

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