American “Iron Nun” featured in Nike commercial

The first scene of the 53 second commercial showed a deceptively frail-looking nun praying, then shushing the narrator for being noisy inside the church.

Sister Madonna Buder, 86, was featured in an inspirational advertisement campaign of Nike entitled “Unlimited Youth” which was shown during the Rio Olympics.

"Iron Nun" Sr Madonna Buder

“Iron Nun” Sr Madonna Buder

A Roman Catholic, Sr Buder is currently a member of the non-canonical, ecumenical Sisters for Christian Community based in Spokane, Washington. She entered the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd at 23.

“It wasn’t until I was about 47 or 48 that I was introduced to running. Actually, by a priest!,” she said.

Sr Buder’s introduction to sport came just seven years before her first race in Hawaii, when she attended a workshop on the Oregon Coast that was led by a priest who championed running as a way to harmonize the mind, body and soul.

She took running to extreme, though, almost burning out before she discovered Triathlon.

“There was a point when I didn’t want to see a pair of running shoes. Then, triathlon came in. That was the salvation,” she said.

When Sister Buder needed a little help to complete her first IRONMAN® World Championship triathlon in Hawaii, she predictably channeled the divine. “I thought of the finish line as the entrance to the final finish line, into the Pearly Gates,” she recalls. “That’s what drew me to [it].”

Sister Buder completed that race in 1985, at the age of 55. At 82, the American nun became the oldest woman to ever complete an IRONMAN triathlon. She also broke the record for best finishing time (16 hours and 32 minutes) for the 80 to 84 age group — an achievement that still stands.

“There’re a lot of times when I had to think about failures and not reaching the goal that I might have set for myself. Then, I realised the only failure is not trying. Because your effort in itself is the success,” she said.

“You carry your attitude with you,” Sister Buder elaborates. “You either achieve or you self-destruct. If you think positively, you can even turn a negative into a positive.” Along with this spiritual guidance, she imparts simple, yet easily applicable performance advice to younger athletes: “One step at a time makes a marathon.”



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NZ Catholic Staff

Reader Interactions


  1. John says

    Sister, definitely you are a sweetheart, a darling, special, and most of all an inspiration to the many young women to tackle the endless challenges that befall them as they attempt to navigate in today’s world.
    Today’s society needs women to assert themselves in their own right, for as many know that matriarchy reigned, and strong before the male element arrived with patriarchy. If this was not the case there would be no imams, no ministers no rabbis, and governance would be by women- as it has been with stalwarts such as Mary McAleese, Mary Robinson, Margaret Thatcher (who reclaimed lost ground), Angela Merkel, and now Teresa May. The six thousand years of war was only punctuated by Christianity led by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whose presence on the cross in death was accompanied by women.
    Self esteem, so vital in today’s world to meet such challenges is a welcome respite from the terrible loss of shame that has arisen from infotainment culture – the payment for ads that come with excitement, and now society is so attached to this culture that if people do not get it in mass, they stop coming to mass.
    The simple fix is the remote, family prayer, making your own fun, and reaching your potential.
    And doing that aged 80 plus is no mean feat, but an inspiration to all.

    “Ancient women of pre-history, three million years of peace, 6000 years of war”. Judy Foster and Marlene Derlet authors.

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