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Meet “The Iron Nun,” an 86-Year-Old Ironman Athlete

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Sister Madonna Buder has 45 Ironman Triathlons—which features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full marathon—under her belt. And while that's an impressive number in and of itself, here's the real jaw-dropper: She competed in her first Ironman at the age of 65.

Ten years later, Sister Madonna—who is a member of the Sisters for Christian Community order in Spokane, Washington—claimed the record for oldest woman to ever compete in the race. She ran the Boston Marathon in 2008 at the age of 78, clocking a respectable 4:42:41. Eight years after that, she got her own Nike commercial, which she recently admitted she has trouble wrapping her head around. “I’m still mystified by it. Why I could be the pick of the apples, I don’t know.”

She’s also a Senior Olympian, holding records in the 1 mile, 5 km, 5 mile, 800 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters, and 10,000 meters. By the way, she has no coach and uses no technology to aid her in her training—not even a watch.

And she's certainly no stranger to injury. Buder likes to joke that she’s a real Iron Woman, with a steel plate in one hip and pins and screws in both elbows. “My right arm has suffered six incidents. It’s a wonder it’s still hanging on,” she has said.

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But how does her triathlon training fit in with her spiritual training? She wasn’t always sure. In fact, when she started competing, she consulted her bishop about her unorthodox hobby. “'I wish more of my priests would do what you’re doing,'” she said his reply was.

Now, Sister Madonna says racing and religion go hand-in-hand. “I would probably be less effective sitting in the convent than I am now, being thrust into the public where I can influence people by example,” she says in her book The Grace to Race.

And, according the Olympian, that's not the only connection between her training and her spiritual life. "Heading to the finish line of the IRONMAN is like me getting to the pearly gates,” she told Ironman officials. “I think that is why I smile every time at the finish."

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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History
Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture
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From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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