Doriane Lambelet Coleman

For Doriane Lambelet Coleman, the path to Cornell and track stardom went through Villanova University. Coleman, a New York State 880-yard champion in high school, was offered a track scholarship by Villanova.

“I didn’t know about financial aid,” says Coleman, who was from a single-parent family in rural Woodstock, New York. “I thought I needed a scholarship to go to college.”

Villanova got itself a fine runner when it recruited Coleman — she ran the then-world’s fastest time over 600 yards and finished in the top five in the 880 yards at the Collegiate Nationals in 1979 — but she was dissatisfied.

“I decided to transfer to Cornell early in my freshman year,” remembers Coleman, ” I was looking for a better balance between academics and athletics.”

She found it at Cornell. During her three years in Ithaca, Coleman was a multiple Heps (Heptagonals — the Ivy League’s track championships) winner and All-American, and her 1500-meter mark of 4:22.46 at the 1982 Outdoor Heps endures as the fourth-best all-time. Her crowning athletic achievement at Cornell was winning the 1982 national 800-meter indoor track championship.

Coleman found an academic home at Cornell as well. “When I transferred to Cornell,” she recalls, “I was committed to continuing to excel as a student and as an athlete. I knew I didn’t have time to do everything college students typically do, so I focused on studying, running, eating, and sleeping.”

Her regime worked. Coleman graduated in 1982, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with concentrations in Biopsychology and Soviet Studies, and did well enough to later gain admission to the Georgetown University Law Center. “I loved my time at Cornell,” she says. “I got a superb education and had a good collegiate athletic experience in an extraordinarily beautiful and serene setting.”

But first Coleman tried her hand as an international track athlete. She moved to Switzerland and trained for the Swiss national team (she is a dual citizen) while working for the International Olympic Committee Museum in Lausanne. While she found some success — Coleman won two Swiss national 800-meter championships — she became bored. “It was difficult for me to remain 100 percent committed because I didn’t see myself breaking into the top 10 in the world, where the real rewards are.”

Coleman kept running but applied to law school, and started at Georgetown in 1985. “My first year I just ran to keep in shape, and then competed in regional events.” Competing and attending law school caused Coleman to realize how “difficult it is to balance high level athletics with high level academic and professional work.” She continued to compete until 1992, but her focus was now on the law.

She became editor of the Georgetown Law Review (an honor reserved for top students), and received her degree in 1988. Coleman then joined the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, where she was a litigator. While she loved her work, Coleman found herself drawn to “intellectual ideas rather than the day-to-day work of litigation.” She also wanted children, which she felt was incompatible with the life of a Washington lawyer. So she became a law professor, and now teaches at Duke University.

Coleman’s area of interest is children and the law, specifically the “extent to which the state has a proper role to play in the family, to ensure that children are safe, healthy and educated,” she explains. Coleman’s currently working on “the legal implications of using children as research subjects, and of using healthy children as organ donors for their ill siblings. The role of law is unsettled here,” she says.

Running just to stay in shape now, Coleman is training for the Charlotte half-marathon. “I’m running with a bunch of Duke students, staff, and faculty,” she explains,” we’re raising money for the student loan repayment fund.”


This story was written by Stephen Eschenbach in 2006 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.