Former Denver Mayor Peña’s Wife’s Triumphant Battle With Anorexia & Bulimia
Federico Peña was the 41st Denver mayor, serving two terms between 1983 and 1991. During his term, unbeknownst to Peña, his wife had eating disorders.
Federico Peña was Denver's first Hispanic mayor and was a key part of bringing the Colorado Rockies to the Mile High City. With all his success, his wife suffered, alone.
Peña had been married to his longtime girlfriend, a Denver lawyer, Ellen Hart, for about a year before becoming Denver's mayor. A few years before, while attending Harvard, Hart was very athletic, most notably in distance running.
A Few of Ellen Hart's Athletic Achievements:
- 1980 Olympic Trials for 10,000 meter (third place).
- 1984 Olympic Trials marathon.
- Record holder for 20K.
- Record holder for 30K.
- Member of the Colorado Running Hall of Fame (class of 2013).
It seems when you try to look up anything about Hart and her battle with eating disorders, most searches take you to the 1996 made-for-TV movie about her life, "Dying to Be Perfect." It depicts Hart's anorexia and bulimia, how they nearly cost her her life, and the life of her and Peña's unborn child.
The movie not only focuses on Hart's eating disorders, but also on how she hid it from her husband for so long. It wasn't until Hart had to be rushed to the hospital because of her condition (and that of the baby she was carrying) that Federico really became aware.
Being a busy mayor of Denver, and doing a lot of traveling, Pena missed how she was struggling.
Ellen Hart Peña eventually overcame her eating disorder and became a co-founder of the Eating Disorders Foundation, though she and Federico divorced in 2001 after having three children. Federico went on to become secretary of transportation and secretary of energy under the Clinton administration.
Ellen Hart has served on the President's Council on Sports, does lectures on her story, and still competes as an athlete. She represents a great story of resilience.