t’s June 5, 2016, in Nice, France. I’m rolling onto
the Promenade des Anglais after finishing a 2.4-
mile swim in the Mediterranean and a 112-mile
bike ride through the Alps, the first two legs
of the Ironman France triathlon. Starting the
26.2-mile run I’m in eighth place, 30 minutes
behind the third-place athlete and a spot on the podium.
I know there is not much I can do but put my head down
and run as fast as I can. More than three hours later
I’ve posted the fastest female marathon split of the day
(three hours, five minutes), finishing in fourth place,
just 30 seconds behind third. Though I’m disappointed,
this is my best performance as a professional triathlete,
and I feel it’s just a matter of time before I’m stepping
onto the podium. Three months later, my hard work and
dedication are rewarded with a second-place finish at
To understand how I went from a swim-team walk-on
at Bucknell to a professional athlete I have to backtrack
to 2002, my junior year of high school in Ipswich, Mass.
While visiting colleges that offered chemical engineering
and competitive swimming programs, I landed in the
office of Jerry Foley, Bucknell’s swimming and diving
head coach. He made it clear that if I decided to try out
for the team I’d likely be cut. Though disheartened, I
still felt a strong connection with the school. Pursuing an
engineering degree while competing at the Division I level
remained my dream. Enrolling at Bucknell proved to be a
turning point in my life and set the tone for my future.
What started as a personal goal to prove the coach
wrong turned into something my soul fed on, as I
thoroughly enjoyed my hours in the pool and time spent
with teammates. Though I was not one of the team’s
stars, my four years as a scholar-athlete were fulfilling,
as I learned to balance pursuit of a varsity sport with the
demands of a challenging undergraduate program.
Ironing Out a Path
Balancing dual professions —
engineering and athletics — was an
ability developed at Bucknell
By Leslie DiMichele Miller ’07 Leslie DiMichele Miller ’07 races to 10th place at the Ironman 70.3 in Puerto Rico this March.
Not surprisingly, as I transitioned from Bucknell
to a career in engineering, I continued to seek ways to
sustain my identity as an athlete. Shortly after starting
at ExxonMobil, I signed up for my first Ironman
competition, and as my career progressed, so did my
development as a triathlete.
At first, I was racing only one Ironman per year, but by
2013 I was racing three per year along with many smaller
races and traveling all over the country. I decided to
turn professional in 2015, as I wanted to compete at the
highest level, against the best in the sport.
Not unlike my time at Bucknell, I continue to pursue
two demanding careers — as a chemical engineer from 8
to 5 and a professional athlete when I leave the office. I
swim, bike, run 20 to 25 hours per week and coach other
aspiring triathletes. It can be overwhelming at times, but
I’ve balanced a demanding career and serious athletic
competition for 14 years, and I wouldn’t have it any
other way. It’s how I’m wired. Whether it’s sustainable is
anyone’s guess, but I have no plans to alter the path set in
that Bucknell athletics office in 2002.
Leslie DiMichele Miller ’07 lives in Reston, Va., and is a chemical
engineer for the U.S. Navy while training for her next Ironman.
She finished ninth at the Ironman North American Championship
in The Woodlands, Texas, in April. Her next race is the Ironman
Canada July 30, where she hopes to qualify for the World
Championships in October.
I know there is not much I can do
but put my head down and run as
fast as I can.