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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Spokane’s ‘Iron Nun’ highlighted in new Nike ad

“But she won’t make it, this is an Ironman,” pleads the off-screen voice of Oscar Isaac.

He’s narrating a new Nike commercial about Spokane’s “Iron Nun” that aired recently during the Rio Olympics.

“The first 45 didn’t kill me,” Sister Madonna Buder shouts back in playful contention.

At 86, Buder has been many things: a nun for 63 years, a triathlete for 31, and a world-record holder since 2012 for being the oldest person to complete an Ironman competition.

And in May, she added another bullet point to her resume: the first person to be featured in Nike’s “Unlimited Youth” ad campaign, which highlights stories of athletes who remain highly active despite their age.

But if you ask her why she thinks she was selected, she can’t tell you.

“I’m certainly no Michael Phelps,” Buder insisted while stealing a moment of leisure in between morning Mass and training for an upcoming competition. “All I’m doing is getting older.”

She has a way of being humble, in a way only nuns know best. As a regular at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anthony’s Parish, and a member of the Sisters of Christian Community order, Buder has a way of slipping God into a conversation.

“I like to tell the inmates this, and they love it,” she said. “ ‘God, help me do my best, and you do the rest.’ He does his part, so I’m doing my part. And so far, it’s worked.”

When she isn’t waking up at the crack of dawn to pray, or visiting the Spokane County Jail every Monday to visit inmates for jail ministry, Buder is training her body. A series of accidents in the past 16 months left her unable to compete in more Ironman races, but that hasn’t stopped her from other triathlons.

Buder was selected to participate in the International Triathlon Union’s Triathlon World Championship in Cozumel, Mexico, Sept. 10. She qualified for it this past weekend at the USA Triathlon Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, which is where she was when NBC aired the commercial starring her.

When she returned home Sunday, she found she had 27 missed phone calls. And the small amount of free time she had after that was quickly filled with interviews and friends eager to speak about the commercial.

“My life wasn’t my own to begin with, and now it certainly isn’t,” she said. “I’m very jealous of time, because I never seem to have enough of it. I’m greedy to have some time.”

When Nike flew her to Los Angeles for the shoot, she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where she was going or why. And for the past three months, she didn’t know when it would air, or even what it was about, specifically.

“They certainly held me to secrecy,” she said.

The ad starts with Buder praying in church while Isaac (of “Star Wars” and “Show Me a Hero” fame) provides tongue-in-cheek narration. It then cuts to stunning vistas and landscapes, which Buder either swims, runs or bikes through, while she and Isaac play off each other’s reactions.

The commercial was created by ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, which is responsible for other high-profile campaigns, such as Samsung’s smartphone commercial featuring Christoph Waltz and Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercial featuring comedians Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen.

Buder wouldn’t say how much money she received for the commercial or what she planned to do with it, but she did divulge one “charity” that already got a large cut.

“The charity part was going to the government,” she said. “I have my own charities I would rather give to than the government right now.”

In addition to being known locally for her active lifestyle, Buder also made headlines in May for saving her sleeping neighbor from his burning home. She’s also been the subject of profiles on running sites, has her own Wikipedia page, and now that the commercial is out, there are stories on that as well.

And while the limelight is back on her, Buder humbly insists she’s not that interesting.

“I’m still wondering why they chose me out of all the population of the world who do amazing things,” she said.

To her, the attention is just a distraction from her one true love: being a nun. She found her calling at age 14.

As the commercial winds to a close, and Buder dives into the ocean with a handful of Ironman competitors, Isaac fittingly repeats a phrase she’s surely been living her whole life.

“Do your thing Sister, do your thing.”

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