Things You Didn't Know About Paul Ryan

In August 2012, then Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate in the general election. The decision thrust Ryan into the national spotlight and within a short period of time, he was a household name. Following Romney's loss to President Barack Obama in November 2012, Ryan rose to prominence again when he was elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in October 2015. 

Of course, Speaker of the House is no easy role, and it's a rare day when political pundits aren't talking about the congressman from Wisconsin. Although he may not like all of the attention he's received throughout the years, one thing is for certain: Americans want to know more about this lawmaker's life.

What interesting facts about this guy have you been missing out on? Let's take a closer look.

His wife comes from money

Marriage can come with a lot of perks, especially in the realm of financial incentives. Case in point: When Ryan married tax specialist Janna (Little) Ryan in December 2000, his net worth ballooned from $345,007 to nearly $1.2 million, according to The Huffington Post. Even if you're not a math whiz, it's not difficult to ascertain that Ryan's bank account received a major boost from his union with Janna. But where did Janna's dough come from?

In short: family connections. Janna's father, Dan Little, is a well-connected and wealthy businessman living in Oklahoma. According to the Daily Beast, Dan owns companies that lease land in Oklahoma and Texas to energy companies for mining and drilling. His clients reportedly include big players in the oil biz, including Chesapeake Energy and XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil. 

Here's where things get even more interesting. Ryan and Janna own stakes in Little's companies, which mean they're profiting big time from the family connection. 

In May 2010, the couple's net worth increased again, albeit for unfortunate reasons. Janna's mom, Prudence Little, passed away from cancer, reportedly left Janna a "one-third interest in the Prudence Little Living Trust," which has an estimated "worth between $1 million and $5 million," according to The Huffington Post.

He's obsessed with staying fit

It's not uncommon for powerful people to have, ahem, interesting obsessions. As for Ryan, he's openly addicted to a rigorous exercise program called P90X. 

The intense workout regime, which was founded by personal trainer Tony Horton, includes "12 sweat-inducing, muscle-pumping workouts, designed to transform your body from regular to ripped in just 90 days," according to Beach Body.

Ryan even admitted to sharing the fitness plan with staffers on Capitol Hill. "I'm kind of a workout guy. I've always been into it. [Former Mich. Rep.] Bart Stupak and I lead [P90X classes] — there's about a dozen of us that do it," Ryan said in 2012 (via Time). "It works because it hits your body in many different ways: pull-ups, sit-ups, lots of cardio, karate, jump training, yoga. It pushes your body ... and gets you out of your plateau."

Ryan's love for P90X took a comical turn when he credited the program for keeping his body fat "between 6 and 8 percent" (via the New York Daily News). Many skeptics doubted Ryan's claim, mostly because anyone who boasts 6 to 8 percent body fat is typically considered an Olympian or world-class athlete, according to Slate. Ryan has yet to address the lingering questions about body fat-gate.

His father died when he was 16

Ryan has experienced a fair share of loss in his life. In 1986, when he was just 16 years old, his father, Paul Ryan Sr., died of a heart attack at age 55, reported Raw Story. The loss devastated entire family, including Paul Jr's mom, Elizabeth Ryan, and his three siblings: Tobin, Stan, and Janet Ryan.

Sadly, Ryan Sr. struggled with alcoholism before his passing, and the younger Ryan opened up about his father's battle in a candid interview with Talking Points Memo in 2014. "While he certainly tried to fight it, my dad's addiction eventually won out," he said. "Over time, it made him more distant, irritable and stressed. Before I lost him to a heart attack, whiskey had washed away some of the best parts of the man I knew ... I grew up real fast."

Ryan Jr.'s dad isn't the only person in his family to die from a heart attack — both his grandfather and great-father died in their fifties from heart disease. 

The silver lining in this tragic family history is that it has given the political leader a helpful perspective on life's struggles. "It was a big part of a challenge we experienced, like lots of families," Ryan said (via The Huffington Post). "And there's a good story at the end of this, which is, you can overcome these things, you can overcome these scars that occur."

He paid his own way through college

It's no secret that a college education comes with a hefty price tag. Although many students rely on college loans or their parents to cover the bill, Ryan chose to pay for school out of his own pocket.

Following the death of his father in 1986, he began receiving survivor benefits through Social Security, according to The New Yorker. Determined to afford an out-of-state tuition on his own, Ryan managed to save up his benefits and use them to attend the Miami University of Ohio. In 1992, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and political science from the university.

Although many find Ryan's college story admirable, others find it hypocritical because he's now an outspoken advocate of privatizing Social Security. Critics of privatizing Social Security warn that doing so could drastically cut benefits and pose risks to Americans' retirement funds.

Joan Walsh, a correspondent for CNN, slammed Ryan's supposed hypocrisy in an article for Slate. "Ironically, Ryan came to national attention trying to dismantle the very program that helped him go to the college of his choice," she wrote.

He's a fan of author Ayn Rand

Although it's a bit of a cliché, you can tell a lot about a person by what's on their bookshelf. This old adage is especially true for Ryan, who is a big fan of writer and philosopher Ayn Rand. 

Rand, who is best known for her 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, has played a big role in Ryan's life since his high school years. In fact, he has repeatedly praised Rand for influencing his political and economic views. 

"I give out 'Atlas Shrugged' [by Ayn Rand] as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well... I try to make my interns read it," he said (via The Weekly Standard.)

Why is Ryan such a huge fan of Rand? It may be because she advocated for a philosophy called Objectivism, which promotes self-interest and capitalism. Many Objectivists maintain that capitalism is the only social system that truly recognizes individual rights. Ryan agrees with many of Rand's ideas on the subject. "I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault," the politician said in 2009 (via Politico). 

However, Ryan has also sharply criticized some of Rand's other views, namely her pro-abortion and atheist arguments. "I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand's novels when I was young. I enjoyed them," he told the National Review in 2012. "I reject her philosophy. It's an atheist philosophy."

His wife has Democratic roots

The next time you hear the phrase "opposites attract," consider Ryan's relationship with his wife, whose family tree is chock full of powerful Democrats. Yep, you read that correctly — this Republican leader married someone with strong liberal roots. Go figure, right?

As it turns out, Janna's first cousin is Dan Boren, a Democrat who served in the House of Representatives from 2005 to 2013, according to The New York Times. Janna's uncle and Boren's dad, David Boren, is also a prominent Democrat. David served as Oklahoma's governor from 1975 to 1979, and he was a member of the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1994, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

But does Janna actually support her husband's rivals? According to her friends, the answer is a fat big no. Her buddies told The New York Times in 2012 that she's a "practical conservative" these days, despite the fact that she was more of a Democrat in her youth. 

Hmm, we wonder if Ryan had something to do with this political metamorphosis.

He can catch a fish with his bare hands

Many Americans were introduced to the sport of noodling via a 2012 profile about Ryan in The New York Times. What the heck is noodling? 

No, it has absolutely nothing to do with pasta or pool toys. As many outdoorsy people already know, noodling is the sport of catching a catfish with your bare hands. Although it might be difficult to imagine a buttoned-up politician like Ryan wrangling catfish, the Times described it this way: "For fun, Mr. Ryan noodles catfish, catching them barehanded with a fist down their throats."

As for Ryan's take on noodling, he was equally descriptive. "They come up on your hand, and you just squeeze wherever you are in that fish and pull it out. I know it sounds like a little crazy, but it's really exhilarating," he said.

Uhh ... interesting. 

His classmates thought he was a brown-noser

TMZ unearthed Ryan's high school yearbook from 1988 and exposed the highs and lows of his high school experience.

The embarrassing exposé revealed that Ryan was voted "biggest brown-noser" by his classmates at Joseph A. Craig High School in Janesville, Wis. Don't feel too bad for Ryan, however. He also nabbed the coveted title of prom king.

It seems Ryan took full advantage of his teenage years, which may explain the whole brown-noser thing. The young man "played soccer, participated in the Latin club, volunteered as a nature trail guide for grade-schoolers, and was elected Junior class president," reported TMZ.

What's up with that Wienermobile gig?

Prior to Ryan's successful career in politics, he worked a string of not-so-glamorous summer jobs to make ends meet. 

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (via Bon Appetit), one of Ryan's jobs was working as a salesman in Minnesota for Oscar Mayer, the well-known meat and cold cut company. He was tasked with "peddling turkey bacon and a new line called 'Lunchables' to supermarkets. He drove the Wienermobile once." 

That seemingly small detail about the hot dog-shaped vehicle promptly made Ryan the butt of countless Wienermobile jokes. In September 2014, Ryan he cleared up the controversy once and for all in an interview with The New York Times. "My aunt was a secretary at the Oscar Mayer headquarters in Madison and helped me get an internship there," he said. "I got to drive it once for a promotional event from one Cub Foods store to another. Somehow the story became that I was the Wienermobile driver, which is a whole summer job. I call this 'getting Wienermobiled.'"

Unfortunately for Ryan, Wienermobile mania continues to haunt him. As political challenger Paul Nehlen said (via Politico), "I went from being a maintenance mechanic in a factory at 18 years old to running businesses ... Paul Ryan went from driving the Wienermobile in Wisconsin to Congress. That's what you're dealing with here."

He's suspicious of climate change

Ryan's comments about climate change have raised some eyebrows over the years, and in 2014, he made national headlines when he openly doubted the human factor.

When an interviewer asked if people are to blame for changes in the environment, Ryan responded (via Politico), "I don't know the answer to that question. I don't think science does, either." 

Needless to say, many Americans (and scientists) weren't pleased with that answer. Ryan's constituents, however, shouldn't be surprised. "Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow...," Ryan wrote in a 2009 op-ed shared to his official website.