The 6 Most Inspirational Women in the Ironman World Championship
Sister Madonna Buder, 84
Hometown: Spokane, WA
In 1985, this Catholic nun went out for her first Ironman triathlon. She finished the 2.4-mile swim four minutes past the cutoff and had to stop racing—but two hours later, she was riding her bike on the course, cheering on other athletes and helping one Episcopal minister, in particular, finish. "I was like a carrot on a string for him," she says. "I rode in front of him and kept him going, and he made the bike cutoff by about 30 seconds!" Since then, Sister Madonna has gone on to compete in 47 Ironman triathlons, half of those in Kona, and has been dubbed the Iron Nun. She's the oldest woman to complete an Ironman and was recently inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.
Kristina Ament, 52
Hometown: Alexandria, VA
Come Saturday, this federal prosecutor will be the first blind American woman to compete in the Ironman World Championship. Despite being able to see only a slim ray of blurred light in front of her, Kristina has finished four 140.6-mile triathlons while being closely tethered to a guide for the entire course. She earned her spot in Kona as one of five winners of the Ironman lottery for physically challenged athletes. “The guide usually describes the course in advance, saying, for instance, it’s a square. It’s going to be all lefthand turns,” she says. “It’s about this many yards to the first buoy, this many yards to the next. If we get a system going and I know the course well enough, they can just tap my shoulder when its time to turn.”
Shayne Findlay, 42
Hometown: West Palm Beach, FL
After competing in the 70.3 World Championships in 2011, Shayne was diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Only six weeks into recovery, she jumped back into her training regimen and has since finished six 70.3 races and the 2013 Ironman Florida. This Saturday will be her first time competing in Kona. "I feel so emotionally strong and appreciative to all who support me when I cross the finish line. And there's a spiritual component—I'm thankful for being able to do all that I do and do it well."
Andrea Samansky, 39
Hometown: Fresno, CA
In 2005, a truck driving the wrong way in a parking lot hit Andrea and her seven-year-old daughter, Alyssa. Alyssa did not survive. After coping with the grief, Andrea started running and dabbling in triathlon races to relieve stress and have a social outlet. She does a few races each year with her father, who persuaded Andrea to try her first Half Ironman race. Andrea competed in a 70.3 race this past May, during which she qualified for Kona. "I like to think of racing as a test, just to see if I can do it. And I remind myself of all the hard times I've been through; remembering that makes it clear this race is not the hardest thing I've done."
Maggie Rusch, 27
Hometown: Asheville, NC
During last year's World Championship race, Maggie crawled toward the finish line but then passed out and had to be carried over it. Her body had begun overheating the last seven miles of the course, and she ended up suffering from 108.5-degree heatstroke—which brought on seizures, kidney and liver damage, and a minor heart attack, plus a two-day stay in intensive care. "It is simply amazing to me that after more than 10 hours of extreme effort and a potentially fatal temperature, my body was able to go on autopilot and push the last few miles to the finish," Maggie says. This year, she's done more heat training and plans to be smarter about hydration and nutrition to help her finish stronger. "I do a lot of math in my head. For instance, I'll think, 'Only five sets of 3 miles left.' Mostly this helps breaks the course down into far less daunting chunks, but it’s also a good cognitive check: If I can’t do basic math, I know I’m going too far into the red and need to slow down and focus on fueling."
Lisa Hallett, 33
Hometown: Dupont, WA
Days after Lisa gave birth to her third child in 2009, her husband, Captain John L. Hallett, was killed in Afghanistan. Following his death, she and some fellow military spouses began running together as an outlet for their loss and grief. The running group evolved to become a nationwide organization called Wear Blue: Run to Remember, and participants travel to various races together. The group also helped introduce Lisa to the ultra-running community, and last year she completed her first Ironman. “Swimming, biking, and running distances that seem beyond my reach breaks me down and makes me vulnerable," she says. "And that forces me to be honest with myself about who I am, who I want to be, and how I'm dealing with grief and hope. It gives me a place to push off from and a clear vision of the woman I want to be."