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After suffering a fractured pelvis during an early season bike training, Sister Madonna Buder sat up in the middle of the road and did what she always does: She talked to God.
“Lord, what are you doing this for?” she asked.
“I got this little answer: ‘Well, did you think that maybe I’m preserving you from something worse, even if it be yourself?’” Buder said recounting the moment.
Known as “the Iron Nun” for competing in the grueling Ironman competitions, Buder is a member of the noncanonical Sisters for Christian Community and a frequent conversationalist with God.
Last week she was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in Chicago, and at almost 84 years old (her birthday is July 24), she holds the world record for the oldest woman to ever finish an Ironman triathlon.
Buder first broke the record for the oldest woman to finish an Ironman at Ironman Canada in 2012. For two years, Buder had tried to open the 80-plus group for women. She had already opened several age groups for women in the Ironman distance and held other records before that, she said, but she wanted to take another shot at 80-plus.
“On the way up, I said, ‘Lord, either three times is the charm or three strikes and I’m out, no more of this Ironman business.’ So he made the most perfect weather I think we had ever had. No excuse not to finish. Nothing went wrong with the bike or in the water.”
With total nonchalance and some giggles, she recounted when she broke the record.
“I finished and that’s all I was concentrating on, getting the job done,” Buder said. “But the announcer went crazy and the next day people were coming up to me, congratulating me on my world record. I said, ‘What? Oh, well yes, if no one (at 82) had ever done it before, I guess it is a world record.”
Buder’s running career started at age 47 and just five weeks later she ran her first race at the Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane. Back then, she was part of an order called the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and attended a workshop given by a priest who expounded on the benefits of running for the body, mind and soul.
After she realized she was a good runner and wanted to run in the Boston Marathon, she thought to consult her bishop since it wasn’t typical of nuns to run races.
“He relaxed, sat back in his chair and smiled and said ‘I wish more of my priests would do more of what you’re doing,’” she said.
She moved to Spokane when her former order sent her in the early ‘70s. It was a time many sisters were leaving their traditional orders, Buder said, and she left hers to join a nontraditional order, Sisters for Christian Community, after reading a book about them.
Buder volunteers with the city’s Community Oriented Policing Services, visits the jail regularly and, of course, competes in triathlons. She estimates that to date she’s done about 360 triathlons.