Pioneering Astronaut Suni Williams Was the Captain of Navy’s Swim Team in College

American Suni Williams made history last week when she piloted the first operational mission flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station.

This is not Williams’ first flight to space (she’s made seven spacewalks totaling over 50 hours), and she is developing a bit of a penchant as a sporting space pioneer. In 2007, she became the first person to run a marathon in space, and in 2012 she became the first woman to do a triathlon in space. She used a treadmill and stationary bike for the running and cycling portions, and used an Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming.

During her childhood on earth, swimming was a big part of her life. A 2023 article in the Cape Cod Wave, a local Cape Cod news outlet, includes a section titled “In The Beginning, There Was Swimming”.

Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio and moved to Needham, Massachusetts when she was 1-year-old. She says she comes from a sporty family (“my mom is an awesome tennis player”).

As so many swimming stories began, Williams says that her father almost drown as a kid, and so he prioritized swim lessons for his three children. “I don’t even remember not knowing how to swim,” she said.

Williams tried soccer, but “had bad foot-eye coordination” and so turned her focus to swimming.

She wound up swimming in high school and college. She earned four letters in swimming at Navy and was a team captain as a senior in the 1986-1987 season.

She grew up training with Bernal’s Gators Swim Club in Boston, at the time one of the best swimming programs in the country (since renamed to Gator Swim Club).

Williams’ list of accomplishments in aeronautics is lengthy. She went to Naval Test Pilot school as an instructor and as the school’s safety officer. In 2007, she broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman.

And it all began with a different weightless environment: the pool.

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1 month ago

There’s a big new elementary school named for her in Needham.

1 month ago

I can not believe Boeing has a spacecraft. Probably last thing on earth I would ever get into.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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