With every Olympics, summer or winter, the 24/7 coverage usually includes stories about the oldest athlete in history to compete in this sport or that sport – and “oldest” usually means 31, 35 or perhaps early 40s.
But Nike has launched a new TV campaign that features someone a lot older than that who is still active in her sport: 86-year-old Sr Madonna Buder, a Sister of Christian Community from Spokane, who is a triathlete.
She is featured in Nike’s “Unlimited Youth” ad campaign that has been running through the Summer Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro.
“It wasn’t until I was about 47, 48 that I was introduced to running – actually by a priest. I’m Sr Madonna Buder, known as the ‘Iron Nun,'” she says in a short video interview released in addition to the TV spot.
“There was a point where I did not want to see a pair of running shoes. Then triathlon came in. That was a salvation,” she explains. “There were a lot of times I had to think about failures and not reaching the goal I may have set for myself. Then I realised the only failure is not to try because your effort in itself is a success.”
She has completed 45 triathlons. Currently, Sr Madonna holds the world record for the oldest person to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon, which she earned at age 82 by finishing the Subaru Ironman Canada on 26th August 2012.
Sr Madonna’s cheery disposition, unbounded determination and quick wit carry her through the tough circumstances that are typical of each Ironman competition. Cheers of “you go, girl” and “way to go, Sister” have spurred her along at each race.
The one-minute-long Nike TV spot opens with a still photo of her in her running togs, wearing medals and surrounded by trophies. Then comes footage of her wearing her religious habit and kneeling in a chapel. When the narrator introduces her as an 86-year-old sister, she turns and says: “Shhh.” She’s in the middle of prayer.
Next she is seen going for a morning run. “Good for you, Sister,” the narrator says. Then she is swimming in an open body of water. “She’s still active at her age. That’s … great,” the narrator says hesitantly. As Sr Madonna rides her bike on a curvy country highway, the narrator says, “Whoa! Maybe a little too active. Naptime, Sister?” She looks directly in the camera, shakes her head and says firmly: “I don’t think so.”
In the last scene, wearing a body suit, she is in a huge crowd of fellow swimmers heading for open water during a triathlon. “What! What? An Ironman? Wait! Oh no, no, no, no, no. This is a bad idea, Sister! A real bad idea!” comes the voice-over. “Relax! She’s the Iron Nun,” says another voice. “But this is the Ironman. … She won’t make it!”
As she runs into the water, Sr Madonna yells back: “The first 45 didn’t kill me!”
“You’ve done 45 of these? OK, do your thing, Sister, do your thing,” says the narrator.
Picture: Eighty-six-year-old Sr Madonna Buder, a Sister of Christian Community in Spokane, Wash., runs through a field for a Nike commercial. Known as the “Iron Nun,” she has completed 45 triathlons. (CNS photo/courtesy Nike).