Sister Madonna Buder was 48 years old when she entered her first
triathlon, in 1978. It quickly became habit-forming: The Spokane
nun has competed in more than 200 triathlons, including the last
14 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Last Saturday, Buder,
71, who holds the women's course records in the 60-64 and 65-69
age groups, finished the Championships in 1,359th place (out of
1,471), with a time of 16 hours, 49 minutes and nine seconds.
SI: You've won your age group in all 13 triathlons you've
attempted this year. Would you say this event is your divine
Sister Buder: I just like being outdoors in God's cathedral.
Years ago, at a workshop on the Oregon coast, a Catholic priest
told me that running harmonized the mind, body and soul. It was
April Fools' Day, and that night I ran on the beach. I've been a
fool ever since.
SI: Do you compete in a habit?
Sister Buder: I wouldn't want to make a spectacle of myself. To
me, that's not legit. I don't wear a bikini, though I'd probably
look good in one. On the other hand, I dress as an angel for
SI: Were you inspired by the film Nuns on the Run?
Sister Buder: Didn't see it. I was probably too busy running to
sit and watch.
SI: There's a scene in the 1967 film Bedazzled in which an order
of nuns jumps on trampolines to be closer to God....
Sister Buder: I think there are more effective methods, like
losing your life. I came close to doing that at last year's
Ironman in Hawaii.
SI: You didn't finish, right?
Sister Buder: Right, for the first time in 13 years. I had ridden
my bike about 60 miles and was going for broke down a mountain,
when a side-wind picked me up and, suddenly, I was airborne.
SI: Just like Sally Fields....
Sister Buder: It's a miracle I'm alive. I got trashed on hot
lava, broke my clavicle and needed 14 stitches in my face. I
could have lost my teeth or my eyes or my head. Some people think
I already have.
SI: Ever heard a fallen triathlete take the Lord's name in vain?
Sister Buder: Cursing Him is no way to get through a race.
Athletes get themselves into these straits--the Lord sure doesn't.
SI: Have you heard any confessions along the way?
Buder: People in these races are often running away from
something. A few like to share their stories, and I've got
plenty of time to listen. Instead of a ministry on wheels, it's
more like a ministry on the run.
COLOR PHOTO: CAMERON HERYET