State Rep. Elaine Nekritz was a few inches shorter, a "whole lot stronger" and pension reform wasn't yet a gleam in her eye as she took to the balance beam at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles in spring 1976.

News clippings chronicle a young Elaine Nekritz, then Elaine Hodges, and her attempt at making the 1976 women's Olympic gymnastics team. Courtesy of Elaine Nekritz

The tiny, curly-topped teen from Kansas was vying for a spot on the American gymnastics team that would head to Montreal to compete against the peerless Nadia Comaneci of Romania that summer. Nekritz knew then she probably wouldn't score a berth. But she says she wanted to take her athletic abilities as far as she could.

Twenty years later, she was back at it. She competed in a completely different sport, this time at the Olympic trials for indoor cycling.

"I didn't wipe out," she laughs. "I performed about as well as I was going to perform. I was nowhere close to being anywhere on the Olympic team."

Lessons learned

Today, there are still hints of the Northbrook Democrat's former athletic career. You can find Nekritz cycling on the roads around Springfield and the North Shore, and she's made a name for herself cartwheeling through suburban Fourth of July parades. But it's not something she mentions on the campaign trail, even though political consultants have encouraged her to.

It was a "past life," she says, one that had some carry-over lessons for politics. Nekritz, first elected in 2002, has risen to be a member of powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan's leadership team and has emerged in efforts to reform the state's troubled pension system.

"For me, it's less the competitive instinct and maybe more the drive and the hard work I learned as a result of athletics and competition," she says. "It gives me some stamina to do things like pension reform."

Does money talk?

Palatine Township Republican Committeeman Aaron Del Mar wouldn't say whether he's among a handful of people seeking to be appointed to replace state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, who is resigning next month. But on Wednesday, Del Mar dropped $50,000 into his campaign account, records at the State Board of Elections show.

Details forthcoming

Remember reading here last month that your information might have been stolen when the online voter registration database of the State Board of Elections was hacked in mid-July?

General counsel Ken Menzel told me this week the board has gotten a better handle on just who was affected "but is holding off on further statements while law enforcement finishes some of their looking into things." What he can say: No voter history got out, and none of the signature imaging got out.

Putt for the pantry

I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you, at the behest of my own mother, that this Saturday is the annual Self-Help Closet and Pantry of Des Plaines' fundraiser at Mountain View Mine Adventure Center in Des Plaines. Cost is $15 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under. Get a discount if you bring a donation of nonperishable food items. Call (847) 375-1443 for more.

Nancy Troemner, top row, in blue, with other teachers at St. Paul Lutheran who organized a "Where's Waldo"-themed scavenger hunt for her retirement. Courtesy St. Paul Lutheran School
Where's Troemner?

I was delighted to receive this photo of St. Paul Lutheran teachers on a "Where's Waldo" hunt they organized for Nancy Troemner, who retired this summer after 23 years teaching preschool at the Mount Prospect school, my alma mater where I was in a class with Troemner's oldest son, Tim.

An unsuspecting Nancy was taken to sites of past preschool trips to discover each party guest who would be joining her that evening at a farewell celebration at Pinstripes in Northbrook. Congratulations.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer
Celebrations and indulgences

Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, where he will be honored for his 50 years as a priest. The Catholic Church has deemed the shrine as a place where special indulgences -- clearance from punishment for sins -- can be granted just as they would be at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Des Plaines shrine, 1170 North River Road, is the only one in the country that's been given such permission.