Twenty-five years ago this week, the Spice Girls released their first album, Spice. This past Monday, one-fifth of that group, Melanie Chisholm (aka Mel C.; aka Sporty Spice) debuted on Dancing with the Stars, impressing the judges with her cha-cha and chiseled biceps. And somewhere in between those two things, the woman who was once one of the most recognizable people on the planet dabbled in triathlon.
Chisholm, 47, isn’t the only pop star to toe the line of a tri, of course. Jennifer Lopez famously finished the Malibu Triathlon in 2008, and folks like Jennifer Garner and Zac Efron have participated in the celebrity division at the same event. But Chisholm is likely the most competitive of the lot. Growing up a dancer, Chisholm began racing triathlons in 2011 and, according to a profile written on her in The Guardian, soon became a “triathlon fiend” who “wanted to try out for Team GB.”
So just how speedy was Chisholm? Pretty darn quick. Case in point: In her second triathlon ever, a women’s-only sprint-distance race in Dorney Lake outside of London in 2013, she finished the 400m swim, 21.2K bike, and 5K run in 1:20:03, which included a 20:47 run split (that’s 6:42 per mile). Her time was good enough for 13th in her age group, and she took to Twitter to proclaim her pride, posting, “Smashed it!!!” A couple of months later, she competed in the London Triathlon, a popular Olympic-distance event. “I think I beat my PB. Such a great sport, get involved,” she later tweeted. “I love being sporty!”
Chisholm was so passionate about the sport that she even penned an op-ed in the The Telegraph about it, revealing her less-than-glam training routine: “I’ll work out for up to two-and-a-half hours on a Saturday,” she wrote. “Sometimes I swim in the murkier Hampstead ponds…where you fight for swimming space among the swans and geese.” She also cited how the sport helped her find a balance as a mom (she had daughter Scarlet in 2009) and as a still-touring musician (she pursued a solo career and dabbled in theatre after the Spice Girls went on an indefinite hiatus in 2000). Later, she shared that the sport helped her overcome an eating disorder and depression. “I find that sport boosts me mentally, as well as physically, and it’s great for the self-esteem,” she said. “I’d recommend triathlons to anyone.”
But Chisholm didn’t just race for personal glory: She did her part to raise money for charities, including organizations that support the homeless and cancer patients, among others. During one of her fundraising campaigns, fellow Spice Girl Victoria “Posh” Beckham implored her followers to support Chisholm’s cause, tweeting, “Help Sporty be Sporty!”
While Chisholm, who is slated to headline a tour this winter, is currently concentrating more on singing and dancing than swimming, biking, and running, she remains as sporty as ever. In June, she competed in Zwift’s Ultimate Chase Race, a virtual pursuit event where she was chased down by the likes of triathlon stars Lucy Charles-Barclay and Alistair Brownlee, plus cyclists Fabian Cancellara, Kristin Armstrong, and Chris Hoy, among others.
“I’m competing in the name of Girl Power,” she said before the race, during which she held an average of around 200 watts for an hour to finish 11th. “Sport is such an important part of my life, and I’m always championing it and trying to get people involved.”