Sister Madonna Buder was already a world champion long before she stepped on the International Triathlon Union Multisport World Championship duathlon course.
She has pounded pavement in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Germany, Australia and a number of other countries — completing more than 340 triathlons. On Monday, the ‘Iron Nun’ from Spokane, Washington was one of the many age groupers to complete the duathlon (10 kilometre run- 40 km bike- five km run) but the only female that is 87 years old.
“I thought I was the last one to finish, some friends assured me I wasn’t but I’m not convinced,” she said with a big smile after the crowd of fellow triathletes who wanted autographs, pictures and just a second to speak with her started thinning.
The run, which was how she first got into triathlon at age 48 on the recommendation of a priest, proved to be the toughest part of her day with split times of 1:31:32, 1:40:23 and 47:29. Whatever she has lost from the height of triathlon career, it has not slowed down her sense of humour or her love for competing at events.
“People here in Penticton are so gracious and loving and the people not only from my own team, but other countries yelled at me, positively that is, and it was wonderful,” she said.
When she isn’t training or busy being a nun, Buder gives inspirational talks to groups, she authored a book called The Grace to Race, makes TV appearances to talk about age and health, found herself in a Nike commercial last year and even saved her neighbour from a house fire after seeing smoke coming from his home.
Buder, who was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2014, said the secret to keeping active is not thinking about how old you are, but how old you feel. The humble nun said she can’t explain why people think she is an inspiration.
“I don’t understand it. Don’t ask me about it because I don’t have the faintest conception as why it should be. It is just following the course that God has laid before you. He hasn’t said stop yet, but he sure has slowed me down that is for sure,” she said.
Buder’s rockstar status among her fellow athletes is obvious. Everyone wants a photo with her, cheers were the loudest when she pedalled out of the transition area and a crowd quickly gathered after she crossed the finish line on Monday. While she said she is contemplating if this will be her last appearance in Penticton (she has in previous years competed in a team at Challenge Penticton and raced Ironman before that), and perhaps maybe one of her last few races period — it won’t be an easy decision.
“I am so use to coming up for the Ironman and I was driving up and I was having all sorts of recollections. It was almost making me sad thinking this might be the end of an era for me, but to end it on a world championship — I couldn’t think of anything better.”