Meet “The Iron Nun,” an 86-Year-Old Ironman Athlete

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Sister Madonna Buder has 45 Ironman Triathlons—which features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full marathon—under her belt. And while that's an impressive number in and of itself, here's the real jaw-dropper: She competed in her first Ironman at the age of 65.

Ten years later, Sister Madonna—who is a member of the Sisters for Christian Community order in Spokane, Washington—claimed the record for oldest woman to ever compete in the race. She ran the Boston Marathon in 2008 at the age of 78, clocking a respectable 4:42:41. Eight years after that, she got her own Nike commercial, which she recently admitted she has trouble wrapping her head around. “I’m still mystified by it. Why I could be the pick of the apples, I don’t know.”

She’s also a Senior Olympian, holding records in the 1 mile, 5 km, 5 mile, 800 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters, and 10,000 meters. By the way, she has no coach and uses no technology to aid her in her training—not even a watch.

And she's certainly no stranger to injury. Buder likes to joke that she’s a real Iron Woman, with a steel plate in one hip and pins and screws in both elbows. “My right arm has suffered six incidents. It’s a wonder it’s still hanging on,” she has said.


But how does her triathlon training fit in with her spiritual training? She wasn’t always sure. In fact, when she started competing, she consulted her bishop about her unorthodox hobby. “'I wish more of my priests would do what you’re doing,'” she said his reply was.

Now, Sister Madonna says racing and religion go hand-in-hand. “I would probably be less effective sitting in the convent than I am now, being thrust into the public where I can influence people by example,” she says in her book The Grace to Race.

And, according the Olympian, that's not the only connection between her training and her spiritual life. "Heading to the finish line of the IRONMAN is like me getting to the pearly gates,” she told Ironman officials. “I think that is why I smile every time at the finish."

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