Sister Madonna’s Amazing Grace

This letter written by Sister Madonna was forwarded to me by Steve King, race announcer for Ironman Canada for many years. No doubt what sister Madonna has achieved over the course of her triathlon career will be a source of inspiration for many people around the world.


I first qualified for Kona by completing the 70.2 Hawaiian Ironman on June 2nd where the winds were so furious they even tore buoys loose. A group of swimmers on my left were following them to China, so it seemed, thus elongating their swim. Not realizing this was happening I was concerned when I no longer saw them thinking I had somehow gone off course until I spotted a lone swimmer yards ahead of me going the same direction I was headed so I held the course even though I could not spot a single buoy which,in it itself, was disconcerting, but I followed my instinct and the lone swimmer as my guide.

amazing grace of sister madonna buder ironman triathlete

Sister Madonna crossing the Ironman Canada 2012 finish line.

Even so, it seemed like I was in the water longer than I should have been. I was getting chilled as well as exhausted from battling the waves so decided to bag it and head toward the beach. Since I still had the Canadian Ironman as a qualifier I figured I might as well abort this event and save myself for the future! At this point a stand-up surfer came along side me trying to tell me something. How he even kept his balance was a marvel to me! Realizing I couldn’t hear a word he was saying he gestured toward the direction I had been swimming so I angled back.

That lone swimmer,although having gained yardage,was still visible as my guide so I struggled on. Before I knew it I was practically on top of the two turn buoys that heretofore I had never seen. This eventually brought me to the finish channel although, by that time, there was only one of two yellow buoys remaining. The wind had swept the other away. Throughout this whole episode I sensed I was being blessed by the guidance of two “guardian angels”,the surfer and the lone swimmer!

Having existed the Swim I was now facing a very windy Bike segment.The trip up and down Hawi was reminiscent of the 2000 Hawaiian Ironman where the winds swooped bike and body up and carried both combined several yards before trashing us on the road where I lay in a pool of blood awaiting the ambulance 45 minutes in coming so busy had it been all day. I did not want this to happen again so stayed as focused as I had ever been in my long career trying to keep as aerodynamic as possible without chancing the aero-bar positioning which resulted in very achy upper arms. I was ever so grateful to once again be on level ground…well,more of less!

The whole while I was wondering where this concentrated energy was coming from and sensed there was a power other than my own pushing me onward. Even on the Run I was inspired to develop an aero-position by bending at the waist keeping my head at the same level and locking my arms behind me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time this is the same posture speed skaters adopt but all I could think of was, “if I didn’t look like a little old lady before I surely must now”! At this point appearance was the very least of my concerns. Since I wear no watch I sensed that I must keep moving regardless of style!

Going two steps forward and being blown one back made me time sensitive. How relieved I was to see that I not only made the cut-off time by 20 minutes which qualified me for Kona but opened the 80+ Age Group for Women making me the oldest finisher of this event as well.

However, there was a problem as they had no 80+ women’s trophy to present me. Guess they weren’t expecting me to finish and risked saving a few bucks on their calculated guess as if their exorbitant entry fee couldn’t afford it! After a month or two the situation was resolved and the ‘Ukeme is now in my possession much to my relief!

Now let us fast forward to the Canadian Ironman. I had only one other race after the 70.3 just described and that was the Calgary 70.3. Having never done this one before I didn’t realize that we would be bused way out from town to a glacier-fed lake body of water called Ghost Lake! Well, subject to hypothermia as I am, this Lake almost turned me into a Ghost! How I emerged after being in it for 1:40 hr. clinging to each buoy to ease my erratic breathing I’ll never know! I was dragged into the Med tent immediately with a classic case of hypothermia and what they called SIPE (Swimmer Induced Pulmonary Edema) so I counted myself lucky to be alive.

‘Tis no wonder I approached the Canadian Ironman with a certain degree of apprehension knowing that Lake Okanagan can also be quite cold if the winds turn it over bringing cold water up to the surface. Many prayers and trust that God would provide just the right weather was my central focus leading up to the event. Also, I had reminded Him that the “third time is the charm” or “three strikes and I’m out”, as this was my third year to attempt opening the 80+ for Women.

Prayers were answered! Weather was the best I can ever remember from my 20 plus years of doing the Canadian IM.
The water temperature was quite tolerable so I was off to a good start with a 1:36 Swim which was shorter than my 70.3
swim in Ghost Lake even though it was twice the length. Hence,I didn’t have to spend undue amount of time thawing out in transition. The Bike, too, minus difficult winds, heat, and/or chill made for a 7:54 ride through scenic orchards and mountain passes. Still, I felt I was being propelled by a force greater than my own. I even dared to hope that I could finish under 16 hrs. but was also aware that the Run might alter that. By doing more walking than intended I was able to ward off stomach issues until longer than usual and there was only the one episode.

Even without a watch I knew that if I paced myself I would be able to complete the entire course before the 17 hr.cut-off.

So it was that I crossed the Finish line in 16:32 amidst a crowd gone wild stimulated by the voice of Steve King the announcer, “Ladies and Gentleman we now have a World record!” It took me several days to assimilate this, “Well yes, I guess if I am the only 82 women to complete this distance I suppose that makes it a World Record at least for the time being”.

But there are some saying, “That Record will never be broken”. BUT! Wouldn’t is be fun if I could break my own record at the Hawaiian Ironman on October 13th? I also realized that between August 26,2012 at the Canadian IM and until October 13,2012 in Hawaii I am not only the oldest woman but the oldest PERSON to have done an Ironman. There are 3or 4 Men entered but I have no competition so as scripture tells us, “Nothing is impossible with God’!

If you have not seen it, be sure to have a look at the YouTube video of Sister Madonna crossing the Ironman Canada 2012 finish line. There are several other exclusive videos as well.

They are all located at: IronstruckTV on YouTube

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