When Lillian Pfluke was young, there were few athletic opportunities for girls. Swimming was the only sport available to her, and she swam competitively from age eight. But after the passage of Title IX, Pfluke had more options for athletics. She played varsity volleyball, basketball, swimming and soccer as a junior in high school.
During her senior year of high school, Pfluke first considered a career in the military when a West Point recruiter came to her high school seeking women to join the first co-ed class. Despite having already been accepted to the University of California’s engineering program, Pfluke changed her decision because, “The thought of shooting big guns and jumping out of airplanes sounded like a lot more fun.” At West Point, Pfluke made the swimming, softball, lacrosse and ski teams.
Pfluke graduated in 1980 from West Point with a Bachelor of Science in engineering and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Army’s Ordnance Corps. Upon completing basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Pfluke received her first assignment to oversee an automotive maintenance facility supporting the V Corps, in Frankfurt, Germany. She later served as the maintenance platoon leader and shop officer in Hanau, Germany. Pfluke returned to Aberdeen for an advanced course, and afterward, was assigned to the Army Material Command in the office of the Secretary of the General Staff.
While serving during the 1980s and early 1990s, Pfluke regularly qualified for the national triathlete championships. In 1984 at the World Championships in Nice, France, she placed 13th overall.
In 1986, Pfluke commanded the Heavy Maintenance Company of the 9th Infantry Division in Fort Lewis, Washington, before attending George Washington University and gaining her Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 1989.
Pfluke became the program manager for the Army Space Program Office after receiving her master’s. She later advanced to the Pentagon and worked on the Patriot Missile System Team for the Secretary of the Army for research, development and acquisition. During her service, Pfluke earned the Meritorious Service Medal three times as well as the Legion of Merit.
In 1995, Pfluke received early retirement and moved to Paris to work as the private memorials administrator of the European Region on the American Battle Monuments Commission.
After moving to Europe, Pfluke transitioned from triathlon training to cycling, the part of the triathlon she was best at. Despite beginning with road racing, she quickly expanded her cycling to different disciplines, such as mountain biking, cyclocross and track. Pfluke even bought a three-person bike to ride with her sons while they were young teenagers.
In 2008, she founded the American War Memorials Overseas, a non-profit that seeks to document, promote and preserve America’s overseas wartime legacy. While starting her non-profit, she joined the substitute teacher list for the American School of Paris, since she lived nearby, and discovered her joy for teaching. After earning her teaching credential from the University of Western Florida, she worked as a math, physics and physical education teacher and coach for five years.
Pfluke currently resides in Germany and works as a math professor at one of the University of Maryland’s global satellite campuses. Pfluke teaches basic math to active-duty service members, their spouses and their college-age children. She bikes to and from work as often as possible, 52 kilometers each way. When she isn’t biking, Pfluke spends time in the gym lifting weights, doing the StairMaster or spinning. On most weekends, she races. Even in the winter, Pfluke continues her training on an indoor bike and in the weight room with shorter outside rides on a mountain bike.
Pfluke has held several world titles in cyclocross and mountain biking. She is also a former National Military Triathlon Champion and has twice held the title of both the National Cycling Military Triathlon Champion and European Military Skiing National Champion.
Throughout her life, Pfluke has remained committed to being an endurance athlete through various careers, two pregnancies and child raising, breast cancer, military moves and injuries. “Endurance sports have anchored me and help me face life’s challenges,” said Pfluke. “The times when peak performance has been possible are fun, but equally important is being consistent through the down times.”
In addition to her personal success with cycling, Pfluke has been active with the Blind Stokers Club that helps teach blind men and women to cycle and ski. In the winter, she teaches sighted people to tandem ski with people who are blind, and in the summer, how to race two-person bikes in handisport events.
We honor her service and many successes.
Writer: Katherine Berman
Editors: Rachel Falconer, Lauren Dahler
Researcher: Hannah Bundschuh
Graphic Designer: Katie Rahill