Oct. 25, 2010
By Josh Liebeskind
The UW Daily
It's funny how one conversation can greatly alter a person's future.
For Mel Lawrence, that conversation wasn't anything but a friendly exchange before a high-school cross-country race. But the events that unfolded afterward set the stage for an All-American collegiate career.
Lawrence, now a senior at the UW, had firmly decided to run for the University of Oregon. But, she just wasn't happy with her decision. That was when she ran into UW commit, and friend, Lauren Saylor.
"I was talking to her at one of the high-school races and she's like, `I took my visit to Washington, and it's so cool,'" Lawrence said.
That comment stayed in the back of Lawrence's mind and secretly she wished she had talked to the UW during her recruitment process.
Soon after, though, she was at the Pac-10 Championship watching her sister race and passed the UW tent. That prompted her to share her college concerns with her dad.
Even though he promised to keep quiet, he didn't, and the UW coaches quickly moved in to recruit.
"I think the next weekend they flew me up, and I met coach [Greg] Metcalf," Lawrence said.
Due to NCAA regulations and the pending dead period in recruiting, Lawrence had a very short visit.
"My recruiting process with Washington was about two and a half weeks long, but I knew when I left," she said. "Everyone says you get that gut feeling. ... I was like `OK, this is where I'm going to go.'"
Metcalf thanks his lucky stars that Lawrence signed with the UW after what he calls "a tale of not a great recruiting job."
Boasting Lawrence as a top runner, Metcalf has been able to guide the women's team to its first ever NCAA Championship in 2008 and a third-place finish in 2009. In that time, Lawrence has accrued two All-American titles.
But, it hasn't always been as smooth as it appears. In fact, the turbulence should be awarded partial credit for shaping Lawrence as both a runner and a person.
It started with a stress fracture in her right shin as indoor track season began freshman year.
"I got hurt, and I had never been hurt before, so it was really hard," Lawrence said. "I started to doubt myself, doubt my decision to come here."
In fact, she doubted herself so much that she talked about transferring. Not just to her parents, who vehemently told her to tough it out, but to Metcalf.
"Honestly, Coach Metcalf and I used to always talk about me leaving freshman year; we would butt heads a little bit," she said.
Since then, she and Metcalf have come to an understanding.
"We just have a really good relationship, and it's awesome because I feel like I can talk to him about anything -- school related, running related, personally related -- and it's not a problem," Lawrence said.
That fostered a sophomore year season that Lawrence labels the best of her three plus years at the UW. It also turned out to be her first season as an All-American.
The following year, Lawrence again was an All-American, even after battling an achilles injury early in the season.
Lawrence -- a French major -- departed for France last summer to study abroad, which didn't allow her to train and keep in race shape.
Since she got a late start on training, Lawrence is still working herself back to full race strength. Her strong work ethic, character and natural talent have made this easier, but these qualities have also made her the undisputed leader of the women's cross-country team.
"She's without a doubt the unquestionable leader of our women's team," Metcalf said. "She was gone the first week of practice because she was in Paris and our team was a little lost to be honest with you."
In typical Lawrence fashion, she modestly admitted her leadership role.
"I've been through everything. I've done this three years going on four, so I just have the experience and knowledge to pass down," she said.
Lawrence also competes in track and will have an extra year of track due to a redshirt. She'll use her final two track seasons to continue to improve so that she has the opportunity to compete in the steeplechase at the 2012 Olympic trials.
For now, though, she is worried about finishing her cross-country career the right way.
"I want to look back on it knowing that I did everything I could, and I never gave myself an excuse, and I always worked as hard as I could to get where I wanted to be," Lawrence said. "I want to look back and know I positively affected everyone on the team."
No matter how her career ends, Metcalf strongly believes Lawrence has attained that goal.
"The true testament to a young person's character is how they survive and what it is like when they come out on the other side," he said. "Mel is a superstar in every sense of the word -- how she carries herself, how she acts, how she prepares -- and it's been very fun to see this whole process."
And to think, it all started with a one conversation.