Throughout his childhood in Italy, Luca Parmitano knew two things: he loved sports, and he wanted to be an astronaut. He spent his youth as an avid basketball player, swimmer, and runner, before relocating to California in 1995 as a foreign exchange student. Eventually, Luca returned home to Italy, graduating from the Italian Air Force Academy before making his way back to the U.S. once again to train with the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. During his career as a pilot, Luca achieved prestige by qualifying to fly more than 40 types of aircraft.
In 2009, Luca fulfilled one of his childhood dreams-being selected an Astronaut for the European Space Agency. Luca and his family moved to Houston, Texas and he began training at Johnson Space Center. In Texas, Luca discovered and fell in love with triathlons after meeting a group of local TriDot athletes. Setting his sights on his other childhood dream, Luca was determined to become an Ironman. Luca had such a strong passion for triathlon that when he launched into orbit, in May of 2013, he convinced American astronaut and former Navy Seal, Chris Cassidy, that he too should take on Ironman.
Physical fitness is imperative to the health of an astronaut, as it helps to offset the effects of sustained weightlessness which encourages physiological complications like muscle atrophy. As a result, Astronauts undergo extensive physical training prior to launch, which then continues on the International Space Station. The ISS is outfitted with a treadmill that utilizes harnesses to simulate gravity, a bike that doesn’t require a saddle due to the zero gravity, and a pneumatic resistance system that mimics weight training.
As a result of utilizing the tools they had available on the ISS, Luca and Chris returned to earth in peak physical condition, ready to pursue their ambitions as triathletes. Remembering the local group of TriDot athletes that had inspired him, Luca reached out to TriDot to help him and his new training partner Chris make the transition from spacemen, to ironmen, an ambitious goal they wanted to achieve in less than a year. The plan was for both Luca and Chris to race in Ironman Arizona, but when the crew at WTC heard about the astronauts and their unique training regiment, they invited them to race in Kona at the 2014 Ironman World Championships.
The two flight mates trained with the consistency and tenacity that one would expect from decorated soldiers. They executed their sessions with military precision and made steady gains in the months leading up to the race. Living and training on the Texas gulf coast came with the added benefit of providing plenty of heat, humidity, and wind, mimicking the often brutal conditions of Kona. When October finally arrived, they were ready!
The days leading up to the race were a whirlwind of press conferences and other media events, but this too was familiar territory as it was also part of their training as astronauts. Once they arrived to Dig Me Beach on race morning, Luca and Chris were ready for a great day, and a great race!
Race day lived up to both the mystique and challenge for which Kona is known. The swim was breathtaking, with the sea life visible through the crystal clear water. Wind buffeted the bike riders along the Queen K highway, through the lava fields, and into the turnaround at Hawi. The run was hot and energy lab relentless, but it was all worth it once Luca and Christ turned onto Ali’i Dr and crossed the finish line, completing their long journey from Spacemen to Ironmen!
Chris became a Captain in the U.S. Navy and went on to serve as Chief of the Astronaut office at NASA. He’s since returned to train for his third trip to space. Luca was promoted to a Colonel in the Italian Air Force and returned to space himself in July of 2019 where he will serve as Space Station Commander for the latter half of the mission. It is Luca’s goal to qualify for Kona and return to the Big Island upon planting his feet back on Earth in February of 2020.
The pair continues to be active and involved in the sport and in space exploration, so be sure to follow Luca on social media for expedition updates and amazing photos from space!
John Mayfield is TriDot’s Vice President of Athlete Services. He has extensive knowledge about Ironman events—coaching the beginner athlete to the Kona qualifier, traveling each year to multiple Ironman events, and competing himself. John, his wife, and their three children live in Friendswood, TX.