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Sister Madonna Buder stood on the shore of People’s Pond at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park on Saturday morning. She made the sign of the cross and said a small prayer just before diving in head first. 

No one could hear exactly what she was saying, but she knew she would need it for the long journey that sat in front of her.

Her journey sent her through one mile of water, 24 miles on a bike and six miles on foot.  

But this was not new to her. The Ellensburg Olympic Triathlon was not her first race. 

Finding her stride

Buder was athletic growing up, but did not develop a passion for running until she was 48 years old. 

By then she was heavily involved in the Catholic church after becoming a nun at the age of 23. She currently resides in Spokane and is a member of the non-canonical Sisters for Christian Community.

It wasn’t until 1977 when she heard a priest on the Oregon Coast talking about the benefits of running and harmonizing mind, body and soul.

“I didn’t know anything about that,” Buder said. “I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t just go out there and run for no good reason.”

That night she went out on the beach in the dark with a pair of hand-me-down tennis shoes and ran about a half mile before she returned.

“I didn’t know what the runner’s high was back then. I only knew about the lows,” Buder joked.

Setting records

Since she started training, she has competed in many events including the 1982 Boston Marathon and her first triathlon in Banbridge, Ireland. In 2006 she was the oldest woman ever to complete the Hawaiian Ironman and in 2014 was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.

Having raced more than 325 triathlons, people are still amazed at her accomplishments. 

“She is an extraordinary accomplished person in general fitness,” said fellow Olympic Triathlon participant Vince Nethery. “She finished and was able to take care of business. Most people don’t even get to live until their 87 let alone register for triathlons.”

Buder has not only seen victories but also had to climb over some obstacles during her career.

Over her 39 years of competing she has fractured her pelvis, torn her menicsus and broke her femur.

“I just ask God to help me do my best,” Buder said. 

Finishing the race

So last Saturday the Ellensburg Triathlon was the start of another race where she once again set on finishing.

“It was a struggle knowing that is not exactly what a nun is viewed to be, but I knew I was given a gift and it is meant to be used,” Buder said.

It might have taken her a little longer but that did not stop a group of Ellensburg High School cross country athletes waiting at the finish line to congratulate her.

 “It was great for the students to see and hear her story because it shows running can be a lifelong activity,” said Ellensburg High School cross county coach Jeff Hashimoto.

Buder just celebrated her birthday on Sunday, and although she completed one more triathlon, she still wonders how she is still completing triathlons.

“I don’t know,” Buder said. “You’ll have to ask God.”



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