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John Kerry: Candidate in the Making

Reaching new heights in a quest for the edge

By Brian C. Mooney, Globe Staff, 6/21/2003


Events in Kerry's life

  photo galleries

Kerry's life in pictures

  the series

Part One:
A privileged youth, a taste for risk
Handwritten letter to his parents
Transcript of the letter

Part Two:
Heroism, growing concern over war
Kerry's journal from Vietnam
Where Kerry served in Vietnam

Part Three:
With antiwar role, high visibility
Clips from Watergate tapes
Transcripts of Watergate tapes
Doonesbury cartoon about Kerry

Part Four:
First campaign ends in defeat
Sampling of Lowell Sun coverage

Part Five:
Taking one prize, then a bigger one
Kerry took loss in tax shelter
Kerry's tax shelter documents
Freeze Voter '84 memo

Part Six:
With probes, making his mark

Part Seven:
At center of power, seeking summit A quest for the edge
Senator Kerry's voting record

Is America ready for its first kiteboarding president?

Perhaps nowhere is Senator John F. Kerry's edgy style more evident than in his recreational pursuits, some of which are just this side of extreme.

Kerry is known to push himself physically, often at high rates of speed, testing his athleticism, endurance, and ability to make quick decisions.

Many 59-year-olds limit their exercise to golf, jogging, or tennis. Not Kerry. Long a proficient windsurfer (in 1998, he was featured on the cover of American Windsurfer magazine), Kerry in recent years has kicked it up a notch with kiteboarding, a new water sport that has occasionally resulted in fatal accidents.

He's also a longtime motorcyclist, airplane pilot, powerboater, and long-distance bicyclist.

Among his more traditional recreational activities are golf, skiing, sailing, and ice hockey, a sport he once played regularly but now plays only on occasion.

The Globe asked the senator about some of those pursuits.

Q. Tell me about kiteboarding. I understand you're a kiteboarder now.

A. I'm a kiteboarder and a windsurfer.

Q. Isn't kiteboarding a little more dangerous than windsurfing? Didn't some German guy, who was supposed to be an expert, die?

A. Yeah, some guy got killed.

Q. You think that's a good idea?

A. I think I do it very carefully. I do it in very thoughtful circumstances, doing it with some other guys around who are well versed in it.

Q. Is it like parasailing and windsurfing combined?

A. You're being pulled on the board by a kite and wind.... It's developed. It's become a sport. When I began it, it was in its earliest stage a couple of years ago and we were learning by mistakes. Now, there are schools, people are learning safety standards, it's being taught very effectively, there are certified teachers.

Q. Is America ready for a kiteboarding president?

A. Well, I hope America is ready for somebody who honestly appreciates doing the things that he or she does. These are things I love to do and have done.... Obviously, if I were to be president, it would be harder to go out and do those things. I understand that.

Q. It would cause nightmares for the Secret Service.

A. But it's fun. The point is, it's great fun. It's kind of meditation, a form of meditation. I mean you get out on the water. It's why I like windsurfing so much. It's very connected to the water, to the wind, to the elements. There's a sense of freedom in it, exhilaration.

Q. Is there a thrill-seeking or daredevil element to it, or risk-taking?

A. No, I'm not interested in those kinds of things. You see, I have zero interest in rock climbing, for instance. I have zero interest.... I've never jumped out of an airplane or parachuted, though I fly planes. I think the things I do are things where if you're thoughtful and disciplined, I'm in control.

Q. Didn't you have an Italian racing motorcycle? A Ducati is a serious piece of machinery.

A. It is, yeah. But I've had motorcycles since I was ...

Q. Yeah, but that's a racing bike.

A. Well, it depends what you do with it. I also got rid of it because I got tired, I didn't want to ride that kind of bike. I found that sort of more than I needed or wanted in my older age.

"There's a sense of freedom," Kerry says of windsurfing, which he did on an outing to Nantucket in July 2001."   (Globe Staff File Photo / Barry Chin)

Kerry now has a Harley-Davidson. He's also had powerboats since he was a teenager and continues to fly.

''Like most pilots, I'll fly anything I can get my hands on that I'm licensed to or allowed to,'' Kerry said. ''I have a commercial, instrument [pilot's licenses], and I have a glider rating and also a seaplane rating. I've flown now for 35 years or whenever since I guess I got my license back in '66. ''

Kerry said he now flies with a certified instructor, usually twin-engine Cessnas or Beechcrafts.

His first wife, Julia, recalled Kerry's coolness during a rough flight she took with him and her brother, Landon, to Las Vegas in a chartered, single-engine Cessna many years ago. They ran into a big storm on the return trip.

''We were bumping around in the clouds, but there was John at the controls, keeping his cool,'' she remembered. ''He's a very competent man.''

Similarly, Bruce A. Percelay, a Boston real estate developer and longtime friend, describes Kerry as ''a bit of a daredevil but very, very competent at it.... His brain functions clearly in a pinch, in times of crisis.''

Driving with Kerry can also be an adventure, friends say, and at least twice in recent years, reporters riding with him in Washington have recorded accounts of his high-speed antics. It's not a recent phenomenon. His 1976 application for admission to the Massachusetts Bar listed four moving violations in four years - three for speeding and one failure to stop for a signal.

Alex Beam of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 6/21/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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