Sis­ter Madonna Buder’s Cana­dian Con­nec­tion

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - GEAR - BY KERRY HALE

Sis­ter Madonna Buder is, in no un­cer­tain terms, truly a sport­ing phe­nom. In a world where big­ger, fit­ter and faster dom­i­nates the news cy­cle, Sis­ter Madonna is an anom­aly whose out­look and ground­break­ing ath­letic achieve­ments have in­spired many. Hers is a long story of quiet de­ter­mi­na­tion and of re­lent­less phys­i­cal drive. She is a hum­ble trail­blazer who has man­aged to over­come bound­aries and pre­con­ceived no­tions of the lim­i­ta­tions of ad­vanced age cou­pled with hu­man en­durance. At 86 Sis­ter Madonna Buder has be­come an un­likely en­durance sport­ing icon.

So much so in fact, that when global sports gi­ant Nike was look­ing for a mo­ti­va­tional sportsper­son for a tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment as part of a Rio Olympic Games mar­ket­ing cam­paign, Sis­ter Madonna was cho­sen ahead of many other ath­letes across a wildly di­verse range of sport­ing pur­suits.

“They made that com­mer­cial in just two days,” ex­plains Buder. “Day one was an 18-hour shoot and day two was 16 hours, all for less than a minute of TV time. I did ev­ery­thing they wanted me to do and I think, to be hon­est, I wore them out.” After re­ceiv­ing wide­spread ac­claim for her ef­forts, Buder says, “I’m truly not sure what all the fuss is about, ac­tu­ally.”

Such is the per­sona of Sis­ter Madonna, a bea­con of what healthy liv­ing and de­ter­mi­na­tion can do, who to this day re­mains the old­est per­son, male or fe­male, to ever com­plete a full-dis­tance race – she fin­ished Subaru Iron­man Canada on Aug. 26, 2012 at the age of 82.

Born in St. Louis, Mo. on July 24, 1930, Buder en­tered a con­vent at age 23 and then, in 1970, left the con­gre­ga­tion to join a group of sis­ters from dif­fer­ent and vary­ing back­grounds to es­tab­lish a new, non-tra­di­tional com­mu­nity of Re­li­gious Sis­ters. This pro­vided Buder the free­dom to choose her own min­istry and life­style. She be­gan train­ing at age 48 at the be­hest of Fa­ther John, who told her it was a way of tweak­ing, “mind, body and spirit” and for the “re­lax­ation and calm­ness it can bring an in­di­vid­ual.” She com­pleted her first triathlon at age 52 (the same year she ran the Boston Marathon for the first time) and then com­peted in her first Iron­man event at age 55. She has con­tin­ued on ever since, earn­ing her the moniker of the “Iron Nun.”

To date, Buder has amassed close to 400 triathlon fin­ishes in­clud­ing 45 full-dis­tance events and has opened up five new age-group cat­e­gories in the process. She says, with a laugh, “And, sur­pris­ingly I held age group records in all of those cat­e­gories.” In 2014, Buder was in­ducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.

Canada and, in par­tic­u­lar, the city of Pen­tic­ton, has be­come etched into the heart and soul of Sis­ter Madonna thanks to the fact that she’s com­peted in 22 Iron­man Canada events.

“I have a real affin­ity for Cana­dian peo­ple,” she says. “The peo­ple are so wel­com­ing, they have sound morals, cul­ture, and they’re so open to

To date, Buder has amassed close to 400 triathlon fin­ishes in­clud­ing 45 full-dis­tance events and has opened up five new age-group cat­e­gories in the process.

LEFT Sis­ter Madonna at the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group Na­tional Cham­pi­onships

OP­PO­SITE Sis­ter Madonna in Kona

em­brac­ing life. I have al­ways loved vis­it­ing Canada.”

In 2008, com­pet­ing in Pen­tic­ton when she was 78, Buder missed the race cut-off time of 17 hours by mere sec­onds. In 2009, she com­pleted the event in a time of 16:54:30, an ac­com­plish­ment that saw her break her own record of be­ing the old­est fe­male to com­plete the full-dis­tance. In 2010 at the age of 80, a wet­suit mal­func­tion ended her race pre­ma­turely, and in 2011 she missed the bike cut-off by two min­utes.

With re­lent­less op­ti­mism and de­ter­mi­na­tion, in 2012 Sis­ter Madonna wanted to open the 80+ cat­e­gory and be the old­est per­son, male or fe­male, to ever fin­ish an Iron­man triathlon. On Aug. 26 of that year she achieved this goal by fin­ish­ing Iron­man Canada in 16:32:00, beat­ing 81-year-old Lew Hol­lan­der’s record of 16:45:55, earned at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kona in 2011.

De­spite “a slight urge” to open up an 85+ cat­e­gory, that event in Pen­tic­ton in 2012 would prove to be her last suc­cess­ful full-dis­tance race.

“I won’t be com­pet­ing in any more Iron­man races,” said Buder re­cently via phone from her home in Spokane, Wash. “I would be plac­ing my­self into too many vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tions. I have suf­fered from nu­mer­ous crashes (in­clud­ing be­ing knocked side­ways off the road dur­ing the bike leg of the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship) and have had hy­pother­mia and swim­ming-in­duced pul­monary edema (SIPE) four times.”

But make no mis­take, there’s still a com­pet­i­tive fire in Sis­ter Madonna’s belly. These days she has her eyes on stan­dard dis­tance events and duathlons. She com­peted in the duathlon at the Cana­dian Mul­tisport Cham­pi­onships in Pen­tic­ton in 2016. She plans on rac­ing the US Duathlon Na­tional Cham­pi­onships in Bend, Ore. in 2017 and plans to race the ITU Duathlon Worlds in Pen­tic­ton in Au­gust, 2017.

“I stand a fair chance of win­ning that event, es­pe­cially given I won’t have any age-group com­pe­ti­tion,” she laughs.

Asked about her train­ing regime, Sis­ter Madonna can­didly ex­plains: “There is noth­ing rou­tine about my life. I don’t train specif­i­cally for triathlons. I only do func­tional train­ing; I swim when I feel like it, I run to mass, I ride to do er­rands like shop­ping – ex­cept for when I buy eggs.” With a laugh she adds, “I learned that the hard way. I just aim to keep mov­ing, to keep in con­stant mo­tion. That is all.”

Highly re­garded race an­nouncer Steve King says: “What an amaz­ing ath­letic le­gacy Sis­ter Madonna Buder has achieved. In ad­di­tion to her nearly 400 triathlons and duathlons, she has won a mul­ti­tude of na­tional and world cham­pi­onships. Her faith and spirit has pro­vided her with the per­se­ver­ance to over­come all, in­clud­ing the frus­tra­tions of be­ing just shy of the swim or bike cut-off times. Even though there are no longer any full-dis­tance races in her fu­ture, she still re­turns to Pen­tic­ton to com­pete each year.”

“She has made many friends around the globe as an ath­lete, an am­bas­sador for fit­ness, a cham­pion for the less for­tu­nate,” King con­tin­ues. “Many times I’ve heard peo­ple ask for her to touch them or give a bless­ing – know­ing she is a con­duit or has a di­rect line to a higher power.”

What­ever the rea­son, Sis­ter Madonna re­mains the ef­fer­ves­cent, char­i­ta­ble, warm, en­cour­ag­ing in­di­vid­ual she has al­ways been, a trail­blazer and beau­ti­ful guid­ing light in both life and rac­ing.

Kerry Hale is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Triathlon Mag­a­zine Canada.


Sis­ter Madonna Buder in Ed­mon­ton for the ITU Grand Fi­nal Sept. 1, 2014


Buder at the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group Na­tional Cham­pi­onships

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