JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WRDenny Hastert's final year as House speaker was a smackdown: Democrats booted him from the top perch, a killer campaign schedule led to worrisome weight gain, and it ended in a hospital for gallbladder removal. But the beefy former Illinois high school wrestling coach isn't crying in his beer as he considers retirement after 22 years in Congress. No, sir. The diabetic lawmaker responded to his surgery with a fitness campaign, cutting his portions and swimming his way to a weight loss that's already at a whopping 85 pounds. "Good for him," says a friend.
Ironically, losing his leadership post has helped, says Chief of Staff Mike Stokke. No more speaker's waiting limo; Hastert now gets exercise by walking the halls of Congress. He also paddles in his pool back home in Yorkville, Ill. And he's rarely on the rubber-chicken circuit. As we all know, diet's key too. So he took his doctor's advice and cut his portions and carbs, a hardship for a guy who likes the thick steaks at Smith & Wollensky and bottomless bowls of pasta at the famed A.V. Ristorante Italiano. Lucky for "coach," as he's called on the Hill, the A.V. closed last week, though he made it over there for a last supper of sausage and polenta. What's next: Might we suggest a volunteer coaching job for the Yorkville High School Fighting Foxes wrestling team?