1. Sports

The Iron Nun still going strong at age 88

Sister Madonna Buder will be in the field for this weekend's St. Anthony's Triathlon.
Sister Madonna Buder finishes the bike portion of the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 11, 2014 in Kona, Hawaii. (Courtesy of IRONMAN)
Sister Madonna Buder finishes the bike portion of the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 11, 2014 in Kona, Hawaii. (Courtesy of IRONMAN)
Published Apr. 26, 2018

TAMPA —These smart phones and computers and internet are big annoyances to Sister Madonna Buder.

Every time she turns around, there's a message or a request or a question coming into one of her devices from somewhere in the world.

"What's all the fuss all the time?" Buder says. "It never ends! I'm just a little old lady doing her thing. I'm an inspiration? I don't get it."

But she does.

She just doesn't want to make a big deal out of it.

But she can't stop it.

Her nickname, after all, is the "Iron Nun," because she not only has been a Catholic nun for 65 years, but she has competed in more than 340 triathlons and 45 full Ironmans, which require swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2-miles.

By the way, she did all that after she turned 52, the year she competed in her first triathlon.

This year she turned 88, and guess what?

"I'm still doing my thing," Buder said.

This weekend that means competing in the St. Anthony's Triathlon — a .93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run — an event she's attended every year for more than a decade.

So, of course, that meant doing another interview.

When she received the interview request on her computer at her home in Spokane, Wash., she was just about to take her daily 2-mile morning run to mass.

She admits that at first she was "fuming" at the thought of doing another "spur of the moment" interview, but then, after praying and meditating and running the 2 miles back home, "I calmed down."

She laughed, something she did a lot during the 20-plus minutes answering questions.

Pleasantly, she ran through the highlights of her amazing story.

At age 47 she started running after a priest discussed the benefits of running, which he said harmonizes mind, body and soul. She became obsessed with it, running up to 70 miles a week, until she started feeling some "running burnout," which at age 52 is when her triathlon adventure began.

Since then, she runs or bikes pretty much anywhere she goes, which most often means to a church, or to a school or to the jail, where she prays and talks with inmates at least once a week.

Along the way, her celebrity has grown with her accomplishments, which include being the oldest human to ever complete an Ironman triathlon, finishing the Subaru Ironman Canada race at age 82.

Sister Madonna Buder after finishing the swim portion of the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 11, 2014, in Kona, Hawaii. (Courtesy of IRONMAN)

Yes, she has broken bones, suffered severe road rash, torn her meniscus, gashed open her head, pulled muscles and been laid up in bed, "wrapped in so much white gauze I looked like a mummy."

Her favorite part of competing? "The spirit of camaraderie. I know these people. They are my extended family."

Her biggest surprise? "That people are still paying so much attention to what I'm doing. I thought after I turned 70 all the fuss would go away, but it only got more intense."

It wasn't until she turned 86, for instance, that Nike did a television ad featuring "The Iron Nun."

As for being an inspiration, Buder, who gets constant requests to speak at events around the world, remains humble.

"I know that God has given me this gift," she said. "And I have to make the most of the gift. If I didn't make the most of it, it would be an affront to the gift giver."

So the Iron Nun runs, and bikes and swims.

In the end, she did have one request.

If at all possible, she would like the story sent to her not through a computer, or through a phone, but the old fashioned way.

In an envelope.

St. Anthony's Triathlon
When: Sunday
Where: North Shore and Vinoy Parks, St. Petersburg
Olympic distance race: 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run; first wave starts at 6:50 a.m.
Sprint race: 750-meter swim, 20K bike, 5K run; 8:45 start
Competition: World champions, Olympians and a well-rounded field of pros will lead more than 3,000 athletes from more than 40 states and many countries in the 35th annual event. Professionals will compete for more than $56,000 in prize money.

Meek and Mighty Triathlon
When: Saturday
Where: North Shore Pool, St. Petersburg
Competition: A shorter distance race for youths ages 7-14 and novice adults; 7:30 a.m. start time

Sports and Fitness Expo
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Straub Park, 500 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg
Open: Noon-6 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
Registration: Available onsite


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