I gloated about this earlier but did not give the full story. Yes, I did see one Mr. Richard Simmons on the Hill last week! He was here testifying about physical education and the “No Child Left Behind” act. Reps. Ron Kind and Zach Wamp were also at the hearing touting a physical education bill they have. It seems the “no child” act left P.E. behind, among other things, according to the lawmakers.

I was covering a different hearing, not the aerobiconference. But Dana Millbank’s amusing report reveals that Richard Simmons wore a suit, kissed congressmen, shouted about the importance of fitness for today’s youth and inspired lawmakers to share their various insecurities and tales of P.E. woe.

After the hearing, Simmons had a little rally on the steps of a congressional office building. That’s where I joined in (after my other hearing). I was really hoping that Reps. Kind, Wamp and some other congressmen would be out there with him, doing some fitness moves in their suits. But by the time I arrived, there were no congressmen in sight. I think they cleared out before it got too crazy. Madonna tunes were playing and Simmons was there in all his glory — red bedazzled tank top, red and white striped 80’s style nylon short-shorts, thinning hair waving wildly in the breeze.

I’ve seen Simmons a few times on David Letterman over the years, and each time I thought, “That guy is totally nuts.” But the truly crazy thing is that in person, he sort of starts to make sense. He is … well, inspiring. He told this heart-wrenching tale of growing up fat and sluggish, then later catching on to fitness, losing weight and gaining his self-esteem. In person you can tell he really cares — his overabundant enthusiasm seems directed at everyone there, rather than at television craziness. He’s really passionate about this, and he wants everyone — yes, even you uncoordinated, embarrassed people — to join him.

So when he started marching around to “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” it was like, “of course everyone should join him…”

OK, maybe I wept a little.

After two fitness songs, everyone started shouting for more. But no, Richard Simmons wanted to wrap the whole thing up in prayer — which was completely absurd, and yet somehow totally appropriate and wonderful. What else to do with all that zeal, really?

God bless you, Richard Simmons.