They call her the Iron Nun. She started training for her first triathlon at the age of 48, running her first actual race four years later. Then another three years after that she took on the famous Ironman Triathlon — a grueling 2.4 mile swim followed by an often hilly 112 mile bike ride and a full, 26-mile marathon. These races are insane, and Buder holds the world record for oldest woman to ever finish one. She was 82.

What began as a way to discipline her body and relax her soul has since become a passion for the Iron Nun, otherwise known as Sister Madonna Buder. The race, to put it simply, is her ministry. A few years ago, before the start of one Ironman in and around Vancouver, the organizers invited Sister Buder to speak. According to tradition, race participants enjoy a huge pasta dinner the evening before, during which they hear a pep talk for what would surely be one of the most exhausting yet rewarding experiences of their life. Though our culture has trained us to make finishing the race our highest goal, Sister Buder preached something else that night.

Sister Madonna Buder, the “Iron Nun,” after an Ironman triathlon in British Columbia.
Photo by Cliff MacArthur and courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Some of you have trained years, even decades, for this single race,” one participant remembered her saying, “but you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Halfway through the swim, your legs may cramp up in the chilly water. On those slick hills, bikes notoriously lose traction, sending you crashing into your fellow racers. And that marathon,” she paused, looking into the eyes of her peers, “even the best, most accomplished runners are never guaranteed to finish. Tomorrow, disaster awaits, but remember this: No matter what happens, no matter what accidents befall you tomorrow — should you not last a minute or tragically collapse with the finish line in sight —  remember this! You were loved into existence.”

You were loved into existence.

Sister Madonna Buder

The Creator of the World loved each and every one of you into existence. It’s a lesson we should all remember.

Scripture is emphatic about this. “For it was you who formed my inward parts,” the psalmist says, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” What else could that be than love? 

Sister Buder once reflected on why she took up the triathlon and how it changed her. “While running out in God’s nature,” she wrote in America, “I would find a sense of calm and wellbeing. One day, it struck me that our problems are so minimal compared to the magnificence that surrounds us. The sport has taught me to be grateful for all that God gives us.”

We do have a lot to be grateful for.

Whatever is stressing you out today, whatever pains continue to ache your body, whatever fears seem to be creeping down upon you like a fog — remember this! You have been loved into existence. God claims you as his child, and you don’t need to win a race — or succeed in any way! — to rest in that. Amen.