08/11/2012 AT 11:45 AM ET
America’s first catfish-wrestling vice president?
After Mitt Romney’s announcement Saturday that Rep. Paul Ryan will be his running mate, the spotlight intensified on the 42-year-old GOP congressman from Janesville, Wis., a policy wonk with a passion for fiscal conservatism and, yes, wrangling catfish.
Here’s what you need to know about Romney’s pick:
1. He was voted prom king at his high school
He also was named biggest “brown-noser” in his senior yearbook. A bright and popular student at Joseph A. Craig high school in Janesville, he played varsity soccer and was a member of the ski and Latin clubs. He also worked the grill at McDonald’s. “The manager didn’t think I had the social skills to work the counter,” he told The New Yorker. “And now I’m in Congress!”
2. At 16 he found the body of his father, dead of a heart attack
“It was just a big punch in the gut,” Ryan told The New Yorker. “I concluded I’ve got to either sink or swim in life. I was, like, ‘What is the meaning?’ I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on.” Among the books that influenced him: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, which he has called a “devastating indictment of the fatal conceit of socialism, of too much government.”
3. He once moonlighted as a waiter
He did it while working his first political job as a speechwriter for the late Rep. Jack Kemp at the conservative think tank Empower America. But he didn’t have to pull double duty for long: in 1998, at just 28, he won his House seat. Fluent in fiscal policy, New York magazine has called him the “Wonk King of Republicans” for his mastery of policy details.
With a history of heart disease in his family, Ryan is a passionate fitness enthusiast who leads a daily morning workout of young conservative members of Congress. (On his iPod? Rockers Rage Against the Machine.) A friend describes him as a “hunting-obsessed gym rat.”
5. Catfish, Beware
He and his wife Janna, a tax attorney whom he wed in 2000, have daughter Liza and sons Charlie and Sam. The family lives in Janesville and attends St. John Vianney Catholic Church. When they want to unwind, the clan retreats to their rural ranch near Lake Texoma, on the Red River between Oklahoma and Texas, where Ryan wrestles catfish out of their holes by hand.
“They come up on your hand, and you just squeeze wherever you are in that fish and pull it out,” he told The New York Times. ”I know it sounds a little crazy, but it’s really exhilarating.”