Canadian astronaut has special message for competitors taking part in WRICH 2023

By Alan Oldham

With over two thousand athletes expected to make a landing soon in Mississauga, just west of Toronto for the 2023 World Rowing Indoor Championships, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint Jacques couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m very proud that we’re hosting the World Rowing Indoor Championships in Canada,” says Saint-Jacques. “Rowing is a great way to exercise, for our youth to get into good habits and good lifestyles to stay healthy and active. Good luck to everybody and Go Canada!.”

There are many global celebrities who are avid indoor rowers as highlighted in this article by British Rowing, but Saint-Jacques, who caught up to us from his base in Houston Texas, is one of the most high-profile Canadians.

On December 3, 2018, he flew to the International Space Station for a 204-day space mission, the longest Canadian expedition to date.

He conducted many science experiments and technology demonstrations while circling the globe 3264 times, but one stood out for rowing enthusiasts.

Saint-Jacques was the first person to row in space testing out a prototype indoor rowing machine developed by space engineers. 

“The challenge when you go to space is, it’s fun, you float around, but it’s not good for your body,” Saint-Jacques said, adding astronauts must lift heavy things and somehow try to maintain their fitness.

According to NASA, the American space agency, researchers warn that a relatively short trip to space—as few as 5 to 11 days—can lead to a 20 percent loss of an astronaut’s muscle mass.

“The engineers are trying to figure out what’s the best, most compact and complete exercise routine for astronauts, especially as we dream now of sending people back to the Moon and eventually to Mars,” Saint-Jacques said.

He added, “I personally vote for rowing machines, but I have a bias here.”

Saint-Jacques fell in love with rowing almost 30 years ago.  

“I actually started on an indoor rowing machine at my local gym until I got a chance to row on the water. I got hooked and I’ve been rowing ever since.”

Saint-Jacques often finds himself at the local gym coaching other astronauts on the indoor rowing machines, which is where he was heading after our interview.

Rowing has been a constant for Saint-Jacques throughout his university training in engineering, astrophysics and medicine and his career as an astronaut.  He added, “It just makes you feel good. It is so exhilarating.”

What Saint-Jacques finds so appealing about rowing is the complete exercise it provides to the whole body, one of the reasons he spent a lot of time at his local rowing club in Houston, preparing for his space mission.

“Most other activities are focused on a particular body part, but rowing is really an entire full body workout. There aren’t many parts of you that are not challenged by rowing. I think that’s the appeal of it. It’s the ultimate exercise. The Queen of Sports, as they say.”

Indoor rowing in space has its challenges 

Saint-Jacques said trying to row in space is tricky.

“The technical challenge of rowing in weightlessness is that you don’t have a seat,” explained Saint-Jacques of a very practical problem not faced by the average rower on Earth. “You don’t have a slide. You have to be responsible for pulling on the handle in the right direction so you’re not crashing into a wall or the ceiling or another crew member.”

Just like when using the space rower’s terrestrial counterpart, with a little practice, he continued, “you can crank it up just as you can on the water or on an erg. As we know, it’s kind of like threading a needle with a sledgehammer: you need to get the technique right before you can put some power into it.”

When Saint-Jacques was on the rowing machine in space, he was often transported to another place.

“I’d close my eyes and imagine I’m rowing on a beautiful river on a sunny day and found solace there in my little tin can in space.”

Like Saint-Jacques, competitors at WRICH2023 might consider visualizing themselves in one their favourite places, especially when they are going flat out and reaching their VO2 max as they try to become world champions.

There’s still time to sign up to be among those competitors landing in Mississauga on February 25 and 26. The final deadline to register for in-person racing is February 8. Act now to secure your spot and to be part of history. Register at