The Iron-Nun: Sister Madonna Buder Balances Her Love for Faith and Fitness

Sister Madonna Buder, 78, races triathlons for spiritual enrichment.

May 25, 2009, 2:39 PM

SPOKANE, Wash., May 26, 2009— -- At church, the only thing that stands out about Sister Madonna Buder is that she's the only nun wearing workout clothes. But it's not just her outfit -- this is no ordinary nun.

At 78 years old, Buder races triathlons. Among the most grueling sporting events in the world, triathlons consist of swimming, cycling and running in succession. She has participated in more than 320 of them -- 40 of which were Ironman class events consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile run.

"Well, you know, as long as God is giving you your health, there's no reason to stop," she said. And this five-foot-seven, 115-pound nun has no plans to stop.

But the nearly 17-hour events don't come without a price; along with the agonizing test of will and determination, she has broken several bones.

"Broken ribs, broken hip in two places, six times in my right arm, different places twice in the left arm, different places -- fingers, toes," she said.

"Oh, cracked in the head a couple of times. In fact maybe that's part of the problem," she joked while standing alongside a wall full of medals and trophies in her tiny Spokane home.

Buder, a member of Sisters for Christian Community, hasn't always been such an accomplished athlete. When she was 23 she became a nun, which she said is her life's calling. Then at the age of 47, a priest suggested she try running for spiritual enrichment. At 52 she added swimming and cycling, and she hasn't looked back since.

Some people have questioned her dedication to her faith, but Buder sees no difference between her work as a nun and as an athlete.

"Who says I can't be in the church and doing God's work out everywhere I go," she said. "There is no limit, no boundaries to when and where you can commune with God. It doesn't have to be in church all the time."

Inspiring Others Through Fitness

Buder serves as an inspiration throughout her community -- to both the young and old. And she's a magnate on the racing circuit, where competitors flock to see the nun in spandex who doesn't know the word "quit."

"She inspires the people like the everyday person to get out and give it a shot. To get out and, you know, get a little self confidence and push yourself," said Earl Walton, who ran with Buder this spring at a race in St. Croix.

"Age doesn't matter... I think she's just great," said Joan McCann, a member of Buder's church.

You might say she trains religiously -- and she does it seven days a week between work at her church.

Her advice for a long and healthy life? Never give up and never slow down.

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