LeKeisha Lawson cooking up Olympic dream

USA track and field sprinter LeKeisha Lawson enjoys the art of cooking. One of her favorite pastimes is serving up fried fish.

“I’ve always loved fried fish since I was little, even though I really shouldn’t be eating that,” Lawson said in a recent telephone interview.

If there is some catfish, red snapper or talipia laying around, Lawson won’t hesitate to use her home-schooled culinary skills to put them in some hot grease. Throwing chicken and vegetables on the grill is also something that Lawson likes to do from time to time. This is her thing.

“I really love to cook,” Lawson said. “I’m always cooking something.”

The kitchen is not the only place where Lawson knows how to bring the heat. She’s also pretty good at scorching the track. For the past month, the former Victor Valley High School and UNLV star has been lighting a fire on the track and field circuit like someone who is looking to have something to say about who makes the cut at the USATF Track and Field Olympic Trials.

A couple of weeks ago at the USATF Southern California-sponsored So Cal Jim Bush Championships meet in Norwalk, California, Lawson showed up and showed out with an impressive performance in both the 100 and 200 meters. Lawson sizzled to a meet-leading time of 11.11 seconds in the 100.

“I just wanted to come down here and execute a good race because that’s what we’ve been working on in practice,” Lawson said at  that time after winning her 100-meter heat. “I struggled a little bit during the season, but it felt good to finally actually do it.”

LeKeisha Lawson has emerged as one of the top female spinters in the world. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline
LeKeisha Lawson has emerged as one of the top female sprinters in the world. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Lawson then came back strong in the 200, clocking a solid 22.98.  The following week, Lawson was back at it again. This time around, she and her coach decided to bump the 100 to focus on running the 200 at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifier track meet at San Diego Mesa College.

Her time (23.63) wasn’t as impressive as the previous week, but the way she ran the race was. By the time the runners, which included two-time Olympian Carol Rodriguez (Puerto Rico), had rounded the curve in the 200, Lawson had already stretched out to a sizable advantage before hitting the tape as the winner in the race.

This wasn’t about winning or losing, though. In prepping for the Olympic Trials, Lawson runs the 200 as a tool to bring out her power and explosiveness in the shorter race. If she happens to do well, great. Other than that, it’s all about the workout and hitting her stride at the right time.

Running Her Race 

Other than working on form techniques, Lawson didn’t put a whole lot of stock behind the race.

“I got out of the blocks well,” Lawson said. “I tried to stand tall coming down the homestretch. Today was more about getting a run in and using it for a workout. This was about getting the miles and getting the race in, but it wasn’t about anything else.”

Consistency is what Lawson has been striving for as the countdown to the Olympic Trials has hit zero. In order to find that right balance, Lawson entered herself in multiple track meets in order to find that sweet spot of running just enough to stay sharp.

“You don’t want to go in under-raced…I want to get in as many races as possible,” Lawson said at the So Cal Jim Bush Championships.

Lawson feels like she’s hitting her stride at the right moment. The past few weeks leading up to the Olympic Trials, Lawson has certainly been putting in the work to get things clicking for her when the women’s 100 meters come up.

With a loaded field that includes veteran sprint stars Me’Lisa Barber and Mikele Barber, young hotshots like English Gardner, Jasmine Todd, Tori Bowie, and talented runners such as Jenna Prandini and Dezerea Bryant, the fireworks are going to come one day earlier than the Fourth of July when the women’s 100 meters takes place.

All smiles: LeKeisha Lawson after winning the 200 meters at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifer track meet in June. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline
All smiles: LeKeisha Lawson after winning the 200 meters at the USATF San Diego/Imperial County Last Chance Qualifier track meet in June. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Olympic Teardrop

Up until 2013, Lawson didn’t think she belong in the elite runners conversation. In the 2012, during her first go around in competing at the Olympic Trials, Lawson saw those aspirations go awry when she suffered a hamstring injury.

“It was a little heartbreaking for the simple fact that I went there for the experience and I felt like I got cheated a little bit because I got hurt,” Lawson said. “I wanted the chance to be able to PR and run really fast, and I didn’t get that chance. Anytime you get hurt, you’re feeling a bit hurt. The next year I had an awesome year. It was a good and bad thing.”

It was good for Lawson to have a solid team around to help get her through the tough times that brought questions about her purpose, she said.

“Just not being put in a good system and dealing with injuries and things like that, you kind of start to doubt yourself. I kind of gave up on it,” said Lawson. “Having the right people put in my life kind of kept pushing me. I always knew that I was gifted…I just didn’t know gifted that was up until recently.”

When you consider the journey that Lawson has been on, you might understand her story a tad bit better. A basketball player in high school, Lawson showed no interest in track whatsoever. It wasn’t until she wanted to play on the varsity squad when things changed for her. Her basketball coach informed her that if she wanted to play varsity basketball, running track was not an option.

Lawson gave it go, and it worked out pretty for her. Before she headed to UNLV, Lawson broke her own mother’s (Sherrie Jones) school record in the 100 meters at Victor Valley High. But the whole Runnin’ Rebels experience didn’t exactly pan out the way Lawson had hoped that it would.

Track-wise, Lawson said she could never find her way. She even contemplating leaving the sport altogether.

“There, I didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” Lawson said. There was a lot changes and things that went on that didn’t allow me to perform to my potential. Actually, after I graduated, I was going to just take an internship at CBS, and I wasn’t going to run anymore.”

Support After the Fall 

After finding herself in track limbo, Lawson received a gift of encouragement from an angel in the form of Larry Wade, who somehow convinced the young runner to not give up on her dreams.

“He said, ‘You should continue running. You have a gift. You’re just not being used the right way,'” said Lawson.

Lawson wasn’t really feeling what Wade had to say initially. But after speaking with her mother and consulting with her former college coach, Lawson got on board the Wade train and took to the track once more. She trained under Wade for several years before switching coaches. Now she’s one of the fastest women in the world in the 100 meters.

Lawson’s 11.07 time in the 100 on June 19, 2016, is one-tenth off her PR best of 11.06, and gives her the 18th best legal mark in the world this year, according to Track and Field News. Last year, Lawson was part of the USA women’s 4 x 100 relay team that home the gold from the Pan American Games that was held in Toronto.

That’s not too bad of an achievement for someone who didn’t make anyone’s hotshot list while in college.

“For me, it was a long journey and I guess kind of unorthodox, because I wasn’t an All-American and this and that,” Lawson said. ”

That journey would be complete, at least for now, with her making the USA Olympic track and field team. That would probably send the Lawson family into a round of hysteria. And rightfully so. Earlier this year, Lawson’s brother, Reggie Lawson, was selected with the 71st overall pick in Major League Baseball’s draft by the San Diego Padres.

“My dad is excited for me because he just want me to live out my dream. He’s really proud of everything that I do,” Lawson said. “My mom is really excited because she was really supportive. My brother just drafted by the Padres. We were like super-excited for him. He was like, ‘How awesome would that be the year that I get drafted is the year you become an Olympian?’ That would be so cool.”

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