Making Triathlon History by Ericka Dawson

Sister Madonna Buder is the oldest women to ever complete an Ironman Triathlon. In 2005, at the young age of 76, Buder completed the Hawaiian Ironman finishing with a time of 16:59:03.  A few years later, in 2008, she participated in the Ironman race in Canada, but was unable to reach the finish line before the 17 hours cut-off limit.  However, she didn’t stop there.  A year later, she entered the race again and completed in a time of 16:54:30, this time breaking her own record of being the oldest female to complete an Ironman Triathlon at 79-years-old.  Buder continued to compete in Ironman Triathlons for another four years, and in 2012 become the oldest Ironman Triathlon record holder at age 82.

Click here to watch Sister Madonna Buder’s inspiring story.

Buder, who has been given the nickname Iron Nun, was introduced to running at age 48 by a priest that told her it would be good for her body and mind. When asked about her training routine, Buder stated she runs to church every day and bikes 40 miles to swim in a nearby lake.  Regarding her diet, she eats mostly fruits and vegetables and adds carbs and protein powder to her meals.

She has broken national records and become a triathlon icon, sharing her passion for staying active with thousands. “We have all been given different talents.  We have to dig deep to discover them and when we find them, we are obligated to use them for the greater good,” Buder said.

Sister Madona Buder is truly an inspiration to all women, no matter their age. On the Girls in the Game Triathlon Team, we hope to support both the next Madonna Buder and the ordinary young woman who simply sets out to break her own personal record. Maybe some of the girls on our team will find their passion for triathlons, use their talents for the greater good and break national records, too.  And maybe some of them will use the skills they learn through competing in a triathlon, that grit, determination and teamwork, to push themselves to the next level in school or work. Whatever the case, at Girls in the Game we are dedicated to helping girls dig deep and recognize their full potential.  So, will you join us and register a girl for our Triathlon Team? Let’s break down barriers together!

tri meet
Click here to register for our Triathlon Team this summer!

Title IX Anniversary and the Women’s Football Boom

In honor of the Title IX Anniversary, our friends at Clubline Football put together a great infographic showing the growth of women’s football over the past 25 years.

They take a look at the pay gap between the men’s and women’s game to see just how big the gap really is and which women are currently at the top.

Clubline Football also looks at what football’s governing bodies are doing to continue the sport’s rise at home and abroad and how many women and girls could be playing the sport by 2020.

The Women’s Football BOOM! by Clubline Football.

Why I Love Girls in the Game Summer Camp

One of our Summer Camp Junior Counselors and longtime Girls in the Game member, Rose, shares what she loves the most about Summer Camp and being involved in our programs. If you haven’t registered your daughter for Summer Camp this year, make sure to do so this week! Our Open Houses are next week, and you can email Coach Alecia for more information:


Name: Rose
Age: 18
Favorite Sport: Softball
Started Girls in the Game: 10-years-old

What is Your Favorite Memory from Girls in the Game?

I think my favorite memory from Girls in the Game has to be all the times I went to overnight camp and was in charge of the tie dye rotation but also going toad hunting with the girls since some of them have never seen a toad.

If Another Girl Asked You to Explain Girls in the Game, What Would You Say?

If I had to explain Girls in the Game to another girl I would say that Girls in the Game is the most welcoming, nonjudgmental, and supportive organization which greatly impacted my life but it’s also a place where I am able to teach younger girls about sports, health and leadership and make sure they feel supported and part of a team just like I was when I was a participant.

How Has Girls in the Game Made You a Better Leader?

Girls in the Game has made me a better leader by teaching me how to work within a team and to communicate with my peers which has helped me with working in groups in school since I am comfortable taking the lead when needed but also letting my peers have an opportunity to be a leader as well.

How Has Girls in the Game Helped You In and Outside of School?

Girls in the Game has helped me in school and out of school by teaching me that my voice matters. Girls in the Game has also helped me by all the support I received which greatly increased my nonexistent confidence and self-esteem.

Why Did You Decide to Join Girls in the Game?

I decided to join Girls in the Game because it seemed like such a welcoming environment and I wanted to make new friends.

Why Wonder Woman is the Superhero I Never Knew I Needed by Jess Larson

I finally got to see Wonder Woman Wednesday evening! It’s been an insanely hectic week of work, so I ducked out of my apartment two nights ago on an impulse; Wonder Woman, I decided, was going to be my you-can-make-it, Hump Day treat to myself. I had purposely avoided reading any review so that I could form my own opinions, but to be honest, I was nervous about the movie. As a lifelong geek and fan of the superhero genre, I knew that if Wonder Woman tanked in the box office there wouldn’t be another movie featuring a female superhero for a long, long time. Which is a ridiculous, illogical standard. Batman v. Superman was a disaster, but it’s not like they stopped making movies about men! But I digress.

I settled into my seat, watched some previews and then the lights dimmed as Gal Gadot’s voice started to narrate. And I was thrilled from start to finish. In so many ways it was your typical superhero origin movie with the hero’s backstory and journey, setting up their motivations for the coming sequels. It included a dash of cheesy moralizing mixed in with action sequences and explosions that get bigger with every scene. The movie even had some superhero-sized plot holes; I mean, did he have to insist on being the one to fly the plane? Really?

But while Wonder Woman retained the familiar elements that make up these movies, to me it simultaneously felt like a whole new genre. Instead of being an outsider looking in, or an extra member of the gang with a bit of screen time most of which is consumed by a romance with the main hero, Wonder Woman was in the middle of the action. She WAS the action.

wonder sports
Wonder Woman in action. via espnW

The movie was about her from start to finish, and that was a revelation.

I have early memories of skeptically watching Christopher Reeve turn back time by making the earth rotate in the opposite direction to save Lois Lane in the 1978 Superman movie. Despite all its gimmicks and cheesiness, I’ve always loved the superhero genre from Heath Ledger as the Joker to Guardians of the Galaxy. And in recent years, women have started to infiltrate these movies more and more; Black Widow is by far my favorite Avenger and totally deserves her own movie. But in my lifetime, a woman has never really taken center stage in a big blockbuster, until now. And this movie totally changed how I see superhero movies.

After the credits rolled, I hopped in my car and blasted the music as I headed home for the evening, a gigantic, silly grin on my face. I was singing along like a fool and feeling on top of the world. Suddenly, it hit me. “This is what superhero movies are supposed to feel like. This is the feeling you’re supposed to get from watching them.”

True, I’ve enjoyed other movies, laughed at goofy Marvel punchlines and had late night discussions on the deeper meaning of The Dark Knight with my younger brother. But I’ve never felt empowered by a superhero movie. Never felt ready to kick some butt and take some names after of watching a favorite superhero do just that.

Wonder Woman made me feel that for the first time, even if the only evil villain I’ll be taking down is the “to-do” list sticky note on my desk. After watching Wonder Woman, I finally felt what so many little boys felt watching male superheroes on the big screen. And every girl deserves that opportunity, the chance to see themselves represented on the big screen. So here’s to more movies featuring a diverse group of female heroes for all of our girls. And I’m still waiting for that Black Widow movie, Joss Whedon.

How Swimming Helped Me Realize My Strength by Cat Splendore


It’s hard to get middle school girls interested in our After School program at Girls in the Game. Average enrollment numbers show a decline at the middle school level. This year we took steps to revitalize the curriculum, making it more relevant for the 11-13-year-old age group, and plan next year to implement these new ideas. But, there is more to be done to attract and subsequently retain these girls.

Studies show that by the end of middle school, there is a disproportionately large decrease in girls’ physical activity. Despite legislation aimed at reducing discrimination based on sex in educational programs like Title IX in 1972, environmental factors, societal influence and financial decisions are among the reasons why young women are at a disadvantage to get involved in sports.

I count myself among the girls who lost interest. When I was that age, I can’t imagine wanting to join a program like ours, even though I now know how positive it would have been for me. At the end of fifth grade, when my family moved, I transitioned from my large public elementary school in an urban neighborhood to a small private all-girls Catholic middle school in a more suburban neighborhood. I’d also stopped playing soccer due to moving and lack of interest. It was also during this time that I developed juvenile-onset fibromyalgia (JFM).

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.” It affects 3-6% of the world’s population, and 75-90% of diagnoses are for female patients. The average age for diagnosis is 45, though juvenile diagnoses are increasingly prevalent, and the average age for JFM is 13-15. Its cause is not necessarily clear, though genetics, decreased levels of serotonin and a combination of physical and emotional stressors are thought to be the primary causes.

I was diagnosed at age 12, after several months of visiting different doctors. I started annually visiting a pediatric rheumatologist who recommended I avoid stress as much as possible, exercise frequently, make sure to get enough sleep and eat healthy foods often throughout the day. I was also prescribed a small dose of a pain relief drug.

It was hard to be so disciplined with my health a young age, and in large part I failed. Since playing soccer, I’d not taken up another sport. My private, all-girls school offered no other sport options, and I didn’t question it. Instead, I turned my interests to art and music. However, if I ever had the chance to swim, I always did it. I knew how to swim due to my parents enrolling me in lessons as a child, but during this period I was not concerned with technique, I just loved being in the water.


Cat soccer
Cat on her soccer team in 2nd grade.

I decided to go to a large, urban, performing arts public high school after this, which had no sports teams. So, my physical activity entailed play rehearsal and occasional swimming for fun. Following that, I chose to attend an art school, which again, had almost no opportunities for athletics. During this time, however, I devoted more thought to treating the fibromyalgia and incorporated biking as my primary means of transportation as well as somewhat regularly practicing yoga.

Now, my Americorps year at Girls in the Game is coming to an end. At the start, when I realized McGuane Park had a pool, I was very excited. I started to swim on my lunch break, as well as attend an adult swim class. I found myself humbled in a swim class for the first time in 15 years. Certain things I could do naturally, but it was clear that I had a lot to learn.

Having a coach tell you what to do is very different from aimlessly swimming laps. At the time, I was struggling with breathing; I didn’t know how to time my breath or breathe out through my nose. It made me realize that I’d been swimming as an amateur rather than as an athlete. I became determined to change that while I had the opportunity.

After several weeks of practicing, our coach told us about an upcoming cross-park swim meet in which we were encouraged to participate. It was an early Saturday morning at a park on the North Side, and I arrived late and missed the warm-up. I’d never competed as an individual athlete before and I’d never watched a swim meet either, so needless to say I was nervous.

When it was my turn, I pushed myself to swim as fast as I could, while trying to stay calm so I wouldn’t hurt my lungs. It was hard and overwhelming. I felt at a disadvantage because most other swimmers were diving off the block while I, who didn’t feel comfortable yet to dive at all, started in the water. Looking back I did pretty well for my first try, but at the time I was tempted to give up on competing. Even though the tone of the event and the people were welcoming and non-competitive, I still felt pressure to do well, or at least not to fail, which was unfamiliar to me. I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with everyone watching me perform or being compared with other swimmers.

Cat girls
Cat with two of the girls she coaches at a Girls in the Game event.


Returning to my pool and talking with the lifeguards convinced me to attend more swim meets. They told me that it didn’t have to be about competing, but rather testing your skills and progress objectively. They were extremely positive and supportive of me and it encouraged me to keep trying to get closer to their level of expertise. I competed in three more competitions, recording shorter times and improving each time.

It became really easy to keep going once I started. My muscles started to change, and my body communicated a clear message: Swim — maintain your new equilibrium. It was the most natural thing to do, and I made it a point to schedule in my swimming time.

Over the past few years, as I’ve learned more about fibromyalgia and my body, I’ve determined that I need to get a lot of regular exercise to feel healthy, normal and functional.

As I continue to grow into adulthood, I’ve discovered the importance of routine and habit formation. Making healthy choices is far easier when the benefits are personal and undeniable. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to challenge myself sooner athletically due to the limits of education I received, and lack of exposure from my family and peers.

Considering the 45th anniversary of Congress passing Title IX, we should all be moved to consider the progress made during this period. Though it’s reassuring that contractually girls are not at a disadvantage to push beyond the limits of their education, we should consider the various social factors that might influence their decision to take that step.

How did I get where I am? I took risks, I questioned the limits of my uncertainty and challenged myself to go beyond what I thought I was capable of, or what was immediately comfortable to me. This is what I want our girls to do! It extends beyond athletics– ask questions. Question your preconceived notions about yourself, and about everything, and you will set yourself up for strength and success.



Anniversary of Title IX: Where Are the Female Coaches? by Jess Larson

Around here at Girls in the Game, we’re pretty big fans of Title IX, both individually and as a whole organization. Title IX paved the way for an entirely new generation of women and girls who grew up knowing that they have the right to play. But on the 45th anniversary of this piece of legislation, it’s also important to look back and consider some of the unintended consequences of Title IX, especially on the prevalence of female coaches.

The numbers before and after 1972 when Congress passed Title IX speak for themselves. The percentage of women coaching women’s teams fell from 90% of all women’s teams before 1972, to around 43% today (only 3% of men’s teams and 23% of all teams). So how did it happen? How did one of the most ground-breaking pieces of legislation when it comes to female athletes’ rights do so wrong by female coaches?

Paid coaching positions were the main factor in the extreme decline of female coaches after 1972; as soon as the colleges were required to offer women equal opportunities, they also had to hire paid, full-time coaches for positions that had previously been volunteer and passion projects for women. And those colleges hired men almost exclusively, a trend that persists even today. A 2016 survey by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that systemic gender bias still exists within hiring practices, and that many of the women feared for their jobs if they expressed Title IX concerns.

Jess soccer
Jess ready to play soccer in her little league uniform

Looking back on my own participation in sports, even on my co-ed little league soccer teams, my coaches were overwhelmingly male, mostly dads of fellow players with the glaring exception being when my mother coached my brothers’ soccer team (go mom!). As a young person, I never questioned why it was always men who coached my teams, even my all-girl high school team; it was just normal. Fast forward to college and intramural soccer season on campus. My dorm team’s star player gets a concussion during one of our first games. She’s had several head injuries before, and her doctor gives her a strong warning that getting another head injury on the soccer field again could result in permanent brain damage.

So, instead, she becomes our intramural team coach. At the time, I didn’t have high hopes; generally intramural coaches are more of a hindrance than a help. But let me tell you, she was really good, better than any of my coaches before, from little league dads to high school teachers. She was confident and cool on the sidelines. She saw where our opponents had weak spots in their set-up and directed us to exploit those areas. She had vision and she gave great motivational speeches, all for intramural soccer!

I give this example, not because it’s an incredible story that will one day become a major motion picture or be told at motivational speeches, but because it was very normal and yet so surprising to me at the time. Why did I expect her to fail as a coach? Why did I have such low expectations of her? I still remember that year of intramurals to this day, and it’s because of her coaching. She made me wonder why I hadn’t had more female coaches in my years of playing.

Coach Iris having fun with girls at a recent game day.

And this leads me to one Girls in the Game practice that I absolutely love. Any adult participant at programming goes by Coach, followed by their first name. At programming, my name’s always Coach Jess. We write it on our name tags. We introduce ourselves that way. We call our fellow coaches by this title.

It’s a title that our Teen Squad members aspire to as we heard a few months back from Coach Alecia’s blog. And every time our girls see a new woman coaching them, encouraging them, giving directions and taking charge, they see that they too can be coaches. That they belong not just on the field, but in the locker room calling the shots, in the office making the player trades or in the training centers helping athletes stay healthy and in shape. They see that girls belong in every level of the sports industry. And that they too can be called “Coach”.