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Sister Madonna Buder

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Sister Madonna Buder's Book
The Iron Nun

Sister Madonna Buder, known as the Iron Nun, is a Roman Catholic nun, triathlete and open water swimmer from Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. She was inducted in the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame and authored the hardback book, The Grace to Race: The Wisdom and Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun.


As a nun with the Sisters for Christian Community, Sister Madonna has the freedom to choose her own ministry and lifestyle.

The Grace to Race Book Reviews

"Sister Madonna’s story is one of purpose, conviction and passion. She dismisses boundaries and proves to us that nothing is impossible. The Grace to Race is both inspirational and energizing; long live the Iron Nun!" —Dean Karnazes, New York Times bestselling author of Ultramarathon Man

"The Grace to Race is inspiring and funny. The story of this now-80-year-old nun will make you want to push your body to the limit as you learn to appreciate the miracle and splendor of Creation." —Mary Higgins Clark

"Sister Madonna’s courage and wisdom shine through the pages of this warm, funny and inspirational memoir. You'll learn a lot about finding joy, achieving your goals, facing hardships, loving God and the rest of those in the human ‘race,’ and keeping a sense of humor about it all—oh, and about running, too." —Father James Martin SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

"Sister Madonna is a genuine heroine, a person whose example we badly need. Not everyone is going to do a triathlon, of course, or even aspire to a marathon. But just getting out and moving can do wonders, and she's a beacon of hope." —Walter Bortz MD, author of Aging for Dummies, Dare to Be 100, and The Roadmap to 100

"Sister Madonna proves you can make records, and break them all over again, at any age. Her spirit is without limits." —Dara Torres, Olympic gold medalist and author of Age Is Just a Number

The Grace to Race Description

Sister Madonna is 80 years old, has run more than 340 triathlons, and doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. In The Grace to Race, she shares the no-nonsense spirit and deep faith that inspired her extraordinary journey from a prominent St. Louis family to a Catholic Convent and finally to championship finish lines all over the world. As a beautiful young woman, she became an elegant equestrian and accomplished amateur actress. But as she describes in this intimate memoir, she had a secret plan as early as 14: she wanted to devote her life to God. After being courted by the most eligible bachelors in her hometown, she chose a different path and became a Sister of the Good Shepherd. She lived a mostly cloistered life as a Nun until her late forties, when a Priest suggested she take a run on the beach. She dug up a pair of shorts in a pile of donated clothes, found a pair of second-hand tennis shoes, and had a second epiphany. This time, she discovered the spiritual joy of pushing her body to the limit and of seeing God’s natural world in all its splendor. More than thirty years later, she is known as the Iron Nun for all the triathlons she has won. Just five years ago, the age 75–79 category was created for her at the Hawaiian Ironman in Kona, where she completed a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon in record time. Now she has set her sights on a new goal: inaugurating another new Ironman age group, 80–84, in 2010.

Sister Madonna holds dozens of records, has broken dozens of bones, and tells of dozens of miracles and angels that propelled her to a far-flung race. "It is my faith that has carried me through life’s ups and downs," she writes. "Whenever injured, I wait for the Lord to pick me up again and set me on my feet, confidently reminding Him, ‘God, you know, my intent is to keep running toward you.’"

The Grace to Race, published by Simon & Schuster in 2010, is the courageous story of a woman who broke with convention, followed her heart, and found her higher mission.

Athletic Background

  • She is an avid athlete participating in numerous marathons and triathlons in addition to being a senior Olympian. She holds several records in various distances.
  • She began training at age 48 at the behest of Father John who told her it was a way of tweaking, "mind, body, and spirit" and for the relaxation and calmness it can bring an individual.
  • She completed her first Iron Man event at age 55 and has continued ever since.
  • She is well known in the triathlon community for her achievements in age group races.
  • She has completed over 325 triathlons including 36 Ironman Distances.
  • At the 2005 Hawaii Ironman, at age 75, The Iron Nun became the oldest woman ever to complete the race, finishing 1 hour before the 17-hour midnight cut-off time.
  • At the 2006 Hawaii Ironman, at age 76, she again became the oldest woman ever to complete the race, finishing with a time of 16 hours 59 minutes 3 seconds.
  • During her sporting career, she has worked hard at also raising money for various charities. She is quoted as saying, "I train religiously".
  • On 24 August 2008, Sister Madonna participated in the Ironman race held in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. She was unable to finish the race by a factor of seconds as she was unable to reach the finish line within the 17 hours cut-off limit. Spectators cheered and encouraged her as time ran out. When she was unable to finish many broke down in tears and applauded her efforts nonetheless.
  • 371 days later, on 30 August 2009, Sister Madonna completed Ironman Canada (Penticton, British Columbia) in a time of 16 hours 54 minutes 30 seconds. This accomplishment broke her own record of being the oldest female to complete the Ironman distance at 79 years old. In fact the Iron Man organization has had to add new age brackets as the nun gets older.
  • Unfortunately, although Sister Madonna started the 2010 Ironman Canada competition at the age of 80 she was unable to complete the course due to a wetsuit issue.
  • She has registered for the 2011 Ironman Canada competition and is still active.

USA Triathlon Hall of Fame

Madonna Buder is widely known by her nicknames Sister Madonna or the Iron Nun. She has won 11 U.S. national titles, including eight at the Olympic-distance race at USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals, and she is also a 16-time world champion. In addition to her collection of national and world titles in Olympic-distance events, she has also captured 12 age-group wins at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. She was named the 1999 USA Triathlon Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year.


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