The Iron Nun and Top Age-Groupers Weigh in on the Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships

By USA Triathlon | July 29, 2019, 8:18 p.m. (ET)

The 2019 Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships are less than two weeks away! As USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running National Championship event, Age Group Nationals regularly draws thousands of athletes from all 50 states each year. 

From Aug. 10-11 in Cleveland, athletes will compete in sprint- and Olympic-distances races in search of finish-line glory, national titles and the opportunity to represent Team USA at the 2020 ITU Age Group Triathlon World Championships, which are set for Aug. 21-23 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Here, defending age-group champions and USA Triathlon Ambassadors — including 89-year-old Sister Madonna Buder, a Catholic nun lovingly dubbed the “Iron Nun” by the USA Triathlon community, and Justin Lippert, who swept the men’s overall titles in both the sprint- and Olympic-distance races last year — weigh in on what they love about Nationals and why you should join them in Cleveland. 

“It has always been a joy for me to be included in Age Group Nationals as it gives me an opportunity to meet old friends and staff that I don’t get to see frequently, and to form new ones of like mind as well. Other than that, I find that the opportunity to compete brings out the best in me as most challenges do. No matter how old I get, I need a little pushing that I wouldn’t do on my own.” — Sister Madonna Buder, also known as the “Iron Nun” (Spokane, Wash.), defending age-group champion

“I love the sport, the camaraderie and the lasting friendships formed. I love racing. AGNC is the place to shine and do your best, whether it’s the joyfulness of the finish line or the empowering feeling of accomplishing a lifelong goal to race with the best of the best and qualify for Team USA! Racing multisport has enriched my life beyond measure, and I encourage and inspire everyone to tri!” — Joni Briganti (Spotsylvania, Va.), USA Triathlon Ambassador

“I am returning to race in Cleveland to spend the weekend with great friends, to compete with the best in the country, and to visit Brewnuts, again. I had a great time last year and I'm really looking forward to another fun weekend!” — Kelly Dippold (Irvine, Calif.), defending age-group and women’s Grand Masters champion

“It’s the Super Bowl of triathlon! For the past 16 years I have been traveling to the Age Group National Championships, as this race is always a first -lass event with the strongest triathletes in the USA competing. I always look forward to connecting with my triathlete friends from all over the USA and racing against the best in our nation, as it brings out the best performance in me. Having this race on my calendar keeps me motivated to train purposefully all year so I am ready to be truly tested at Nationals. To earn a spot on Team USA and race for our country at worlds is a true honor.” — Celia Dubey (Tarpon Springs, Fla.), defending age-group champion

“I will be racing in my third consecutive Age Group National Championships, and the two main reasons are the professionalism and details put into the high quality events and the overwhelming attitude and atmosphere that USA Triathlon provides to make the athletes feel wanted and cared-for during every step of the weekend. If you want to feel appreciated and have an incredible big race experience, Age Group Nationals is for you!” — Scott Erba (Winona Lake, Ind.), defending age-group and men’s Masters champion

“I chose to race Nationals this year because I had such a great experience in Milwaukee (in 2015). The experience, energy, and excitement were similar to a long-course or IRONMAN event, but more accessible for everyone. There aren't many sprint- and Olympic-distance races that can provide this level of athlete experience." — Ashley Forsyth (Philadelphia, Pa.), USA Triathlon Ambassador

“What I enjoy most about Age Group Nationals is the opportunity to go up against the best in my age group! This is a powerful motivator, and it helps push me to seek out incremental improvements in all three disciplines (okay, maybe some bigger improvements on the swim!) What this competition does, though, is set me on a path of seeking to be the best version of myself. Plus, we did find a fabulous little Italian restaurant in Cleveland.” — Jeff Haas (Huntersville, N.C.), USA Triathlon Ambassador

“Age Group Nationals is a special event that is like no other during the year.  Not only is it competitive, but it also provides a fun and energetic atmosphere unlike any triathlon during the year. After winning a national championship in 2016, 2017, and 2018, I had to come back to see what I can do in 2019. My parents are both from Cleveland, and my dad is racing here again. He graduated from high school in 1963 in the same auditorium where awards were held last year, so it is a special place for him. As my dad always says, ‘Rock N Roll Cleveland!’” — Tim Hola (Highlands Ranch, Colo.), defending age-group champion

“The atmosphere at AGNC is simply amazing. There is no other way to describe it except it just feels surreal. USA Triathlon puts on a huge production that makes you feel like you are racing on the world’s biggest stage, and the competition is always fierce and fast. Cleveland rocked out in 2018, and I heard it’s going to be even better in 2019!” — Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.), defending men’s overall champion for both sprint- and Olympic-distance

“To me, Age Group Nationals is the best event of the year. The energy! The athletes and spectators! The finish line! Then, finally, the awards and getting on Team USA to go to the World Championships! I've made lifelong friends at this event, and I plan my season around this event.” — Eryn Kubinski (Shorewood, Ill.), USA Triathlon Ambassador

“Age Group Nationals has an awesome vibe and is the most competitive short-course racing in the world. Cleveland is a great host city, but ultimately, I'm looking forward to the ice cream! Mitchell's Ice Cream Shop was the most amazing ice cream I've ever had.” — Jon Mason (Fort Collins, Colo.), defending age-group champion

“I chose to race at Age Group National Championships this year because I love the atmosphere of Nationals. It truly feels like a championship race. I may be a bit biased since I grew up in the Cleveland area, but I love this city and its people. Cleveland is very welcoming, and there are a number of things to do in the city. The surrounding parks are just beautiful, with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and places to ride. Please join me in racing Nationals because it’s an experience you’ll never forget, you get to meet others from around the country — and hey, you never know, you might just earn that spot on Team USA!” — Roseann Peiffer (Maumee, Ohio), USA Triathlon Ambassador

"Last year at Age Group Nationals was amazing! USA Triathlon did a fantastic job with the race venue. My family traveled with me to watch the race, and spectator viewing was perfect! They really enjoyed the event and are coming again with me this year! If you're looking for a top-notch race with a great location, amazing volunteers and the best competition, I would invite you to compete at Age Group Nationals. You will not be disappointed!" — Michael Phinney (Yardley, Pa.), defending age-group champion


“I now have friends at Nationals that I look forward to seeing each year.  Carol from Florida, Martha from Illinois, Shelly from North Carolina.  We may only talk for five or 10 minutes during transition or after the race, but there’s a special bond between us created by our common experiences at Nationals.  I love going to the awards ceremony to cheer when one of them is on the podium.” — Sue Reynolds (Bloomington, Ind.), USA Triathlon Ambassador

"I qualified for Age Group Nationals for the first time in 2014, and almost did not go. Little did I know how it would change my life! Not only did I experience racing at a new level, but I also learned so much more about triathlon racing and training, plus I made new friends, and I started to dream big: Team USA. I have been competing at Nationals every year since, reconnecting with old and new friends, and I realized my dream in 2017. Age Group Nationals holds a special place in my heart and on my race calendar! And it should so for you, too!" — Sybille Rex (Jamaica Plain, Mass.), USA Triathlon Ambassador


“I love USA Triathlon Nationals because I get to go up against the best in the country. There’s no hiding, and I love pushing the limits and putting it all out on the line. It’s fun when you can surprise yourself and truly see all of your hard work pay off in a stacked field.” — Abbie Sullivan (Canandaigua, N.Y.), defending age-group champion

“Age Group Nationals is a great opportunity each year to race against the fastest athletes in the country. The added bonus is qualifying for ITU Worlds, which is held is some wonderful places around the world. Everyone should take advantage of the opportunity to have a great experience at Nationals.” — Lee Walther (Oklahoma City, Okla.), defending age-group champion


To learn more about the 2019 Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, and to register to participate, visit usatriathlon.org/agnc2019. Registration for both the sprint- and Olympic-distance races will close on Aug. 7 at 11:59 p.m. MT.

Saturday’s Olympic-distance race is qualification-based, and more information about qualifying and registering can be found here. Sunday’s sprint-distance does not require qualification and is open to anybody.