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Chapter 8: "Run for your life…!"
October 2004

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Astronaut Clayton Anderson poses for a portrait with his familyAs an astronaut and a former college athlete, I try very hard to stay in decent shape. Not so much as a requirement for the astronaut job mind you, but for peace of mind regarding my health given my family history. So, over here in Star City, Russia, it’s an asset that we have different ways to maintain our physical fitness.

Image at right: Astronaut Clayton Anderson poses for a portrait with his family. Credit: NASA

Cottage 4 (1 or 6) has a small fitness center in its basement. The “gym” includes free weights, weight machines and of course, the ever-popular aerobic equipment (e.g., treadmill, bicycle and stepping machine). We also have a few “astronaut specials” like the arm-cycle (imagine pedaling a bike with your arms) and some other machines designed to strengthen forearms, critical for performing space walks. I am an avid weight lifter, spending much of my free time there. Often, I run a few miles on the treadmill or pedal for 30-45 minutes on the bike. However, this trip I have allowed Suni and some other astronaut friends (see Chapter 7!) to coax me to “…go for a run in the woods.”

Well, a run in the woods in Star City is exactly that. After about a half-mile inside the “territory,” east from our cottages, we duck onto a trail through the woods that eventually leads us through the perimeter fence. At that point we are “off-territory” running amongst the Birch trees and Norfolk pines. It’s a beautiful run, especially when the weather is good (it had been absolutely beautiful this trip as it fell right in the middle of Russia’s version of “Indian Summer”). It was during a recent run through these very same woods that this chapter began to take shape.

It was my turn to lead and set the pace (I was a sprinter in college, so that means “slowly!”). I chose the path that would take us to the tracks of Moscow’s electric train that runs past Star City. At that point we typically perform our “turn-around” and head back the way we came. Not on this day! As we took a quick перeрыв (peri-reef or “break”), our plans for a leisurely 6-kilometer (4-mile) run were quickly changed by our newest Russian friend, Volodya. Volodya, or “Jack LaLane-ski” as we affectionately came to call him, is a 58-year-old former Soyuz engineer and cosmonaut trainer. He runs 3-4 times a week through these very same woods at a pace that I liken to necessitating a call to 911! He carries an old fishing pole to whack away the weeds, tree limbs and stray dogs that occupy our jogging trail and he has to be one of the strongest 58-year-olds I have ever seen. As he first came upon us, we called, “Привет” (priv-yet or “hello”) to which he replied (with a wave of his free arm), “Пошли, пошли (posh-lee or “let’s go”)!” And off we went! Pushed by this man some 14 years my senior, I increased my pace so as to not fall too far behind. He merrily trotted along, turning to speak to us (in Russian), chatting as if he were seated in his easy chair sipping some hot tea. We ran and we ran and we ran as he led us around a “tributary” path, all the while checking on each one of us to ensure that we were doing okay. Ultimately, reflecting the kindness and nurturing of the grandfather that he probably was, Volodya dropped us off about 50 yards from our cottages. While we (at least I) gasped for air, Volodya bid us a hearty goodbye with a wave and a nod as he headed off into the woods…again!

We ran approximately 60 minutes that day, about 20 or so more than usual. But you know, it didn’t seem quite so far when we were done. I felt stronger…and young; very young!