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Running, biking and swimming: When astronaut Sunita Williams took part in a triathlon from space

Quite the fitness enthusiast, Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams competed in a triathlon from space in 2012.

Astronaut Sunita Williams ran a triathlon from space in 2012

Astronaut Sunita Williams ran a triathlon from space in 2012


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 21 March 2022 10:35 AM GMT

If you thought triathlons are exclusively possible on an earthly level, you may have to think again as NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, of Indo-Slovenian origin, did the seemingly impossibly by participating in a triathlon from space and went on to finish it at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California, way back in 2012.

Sunita Williams, ticked off the three required activities for a triathlon - running, biking, and swimming from space while the others in the race took part in it from the ground itself. Williams, who was the then U.S Commander of the Expedition 33 crew aboard the International Space Station, which was orbiting the Earth 386 kilometres overhead, ensured that the triathlon experience is not missed out on by simulating the entire thing.

Not one to find excuses, Sunita Williams, who has always been pretty vested in athletic activities, made use of onboard exercise equipment, stationary bike, treadmill and strength training machine which was designed specifically to generate the feeling of weightlessness, to take part in the triathlon while being in space. While the Space Station has its own stationary bike and treadmill, making the biking and running segments of the triathlon easily arrangeable, but for the swimming, Williams used an Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) that allowed for her to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that would translate to the feeling of swimming in micro-gravity.

Assembling all of these and even running the Falmouth Road Race, a 7-mile race virtually from space again in the warm-up to the main triathlon, Sunita Williams, swum half a mile (0.8 km), biked for 18 miles (29 km) and ran 4 miles (6.4km) to clock 1 hour 48 minutes and 33 seconds in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon of 2012.

Once the woman to hold the record of doing the most number of spacewalks (7) and also for the longest duration by a woman on a spacewalk (50 hours 40 minutes), Williams is now a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. After the 2012 triathlon achievement, Sunita Williams spoke from the International Space Centre and said, "Thanks everybody for your support and ideas about health and fitness and how important it is for humans and getting us back into long-duration spaceflight. I'm happy to be done. It wasn't easy, and I'm sure everybody in California's very happy to be done too," as she touched the finish line.

Sunita Williams during the Boston Marathon (Source: NASA TV)

Fitness is a big part of being in the space, especially for a long duration. The weightless conditions of being in space can take a toll on spaceflyers who are specifically instructed to spend time working out to prevent the muscles and bones from deteriorating. "It's critically important to understand human physiology and how to keep you strong on orbit," NASA's flight director in Mission Control had said after Williams completed the triathlon, congratulating the able astronaut on a race "well done."

However, this wasn't the first time Sunita Williams did something athletic onboard a spacecraft either. Back in 2007, when Williams was on the last leg of being on the orbiting outpost, she took part in the Boston Marathon and finished it in 4 hours 23 minutes and 10 seconds, as she crossed the orbital finish line.

Always big on such fitness activities, Williams has been an inspiration. "A big shout out to our astronaut strength and conditioning folks, who were really interested in this and who got this whole workout together," Williams had mentioned and showed her gratitude to the NASA Exercise Lab staff and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent who trained with Williams before her launch and completed the race in Malibu.

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