When Johnson C. Smith University announced the hiring of Carol Lawrence to lead its men’s and women’s track and field programs, the school’s athletic director, Stephen Joyner Sr., described the Jamaican native as a “local powerhouse.”
It seems an apt description.
Lawrence, once an accomplished college runner in her own right, has built an impressive coaching record at the high school level.
During 15 years at Providence Day School — the last 12 as head coach — she led the girl’s track team to nine consecutive state championships. The boy’s team won eight of the last nine years, including the last three.
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Lawrence has coached dozen of state champions and, so far, one future Olympian — Anna Cockrell, a 2016 Providence Day graduate and 400-meter hurdler who competed for the United States in the 2020 summer games in Tokyo.
In June, The Charlotte Observer named Lawrence Girl’s Coach of the Year.
At JCSU, she is the first woman to lead the school’s track and field program.
QCity Metro met with Lawrence to discuss her background as a runner, her move from Providence Day to JCSU, and her goals for the university’s student-athletes.
Her answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Can you talk about how you got your start in running?
In Jamaica, we run a lot of road races. We line up on the street, wait for the traffic to pass, and then we raced. I didn’t start running competitively until high school, which starts in the seventh grade.
What events did you run?
I ran the 100-meter hurdles and sprints.
Who molded you into the track star you were?
I was intrinsically motivated. I didn’t have an external force to tell me to run; I just wanted to. Even when I was in college (New York Institute of Technology), I didn’t have a coach for hurdles. I saw the workouts on the board, and I would create my own. Back in those days, we didn’t have the internet or YouTube, so I had to figure out how to fix myself.
Did you run all four years in college?
They cut the program my junior year and then reinstated it my senior year, so I ran three years.
Did you continue running after graduation?
No, I was so busy working. (She was a financial analysts in New York before moving to Charlotte.)
When did you start coaching track and field?
In 2007, my daughter and I moved here from New York because she was about to be in middle school, which is a very critical period of development. I wanted her to run, so I started coaching her, and that’s how it began.
How would you describe your coaching style?
It’s a nurturing way of doing things. I subtly train my kids for events that they didn’t know they could perform well in. I coach from the bottom up, so I’ll take someone who is in the bottom 20 and coach them up to the top five.
How are you able to coach mid-distance runners?
I’ll make a blend of the events they run — what they like to do, what they hate to do — and I get them away from their normal way of training. Every other Wednesday, I go to a coaching symposium to see what they are doing and what is new. You can’t be stagnant, and you have to be able to adjust your coaching style. I also coach several group training sessions, which make the workouts more individualized.
Can you talk about your time at Providence Day?
I started as the assistant coach. They had three different head coaches before I became the head coach in 2012. I used to walk the hallways and recruit people. If I saw you walk on your tippy toes or I noticed you have nice calves, I’d say, “Come on and run.” When I was teaching, I would have the kids write about what activities they like to do. I would take note of them and then show them videos of different track events. They started to see that track was more than just running, and that’s how the program grew. I started coaching them in middle school so that when they got to high school, I didn’t have to fix bad habits.
What made you want to transition from Providence Day to JCSU?
It was just time. For years, I had been saying I was going to leave. A friend of mine at Georgetown University told me, “Carol, Johnson C. Smith is looking for a head coach, and you would be perfect for that job.” I said, “Yes, you’re right; I’m perfect.” I mailed in my application and I told them, “You’ve never had a woman run your program. I’m the right fit for this job.” Then I sent them my resume, gave them the talking points, and here I am.
How does it feel being the first woman to lead the school’s track program?
I had to put a woman’s touch on this place [the track coach’s office]. I had to make it look like someone lived here, so I cleaned it up and organized it. I’m also looking to do community engagement. We are planning to partner with West Charlotte High and MLK Middle School, and my kids are going to be helping those students with their schoolwork. I’m also looking to partner with corporations so that our track kids can get internships during the summer.
What makes you care about your athletes beyond the sport?
Some of these students are first generation, and when I watch the news and see our kids struggling, it breaks my heart. When I was at Providence Day, I saw how successful those kids were because they have good resources, and I want our kids to be successful, too. So that is what drives me everyday.
How will you bring those important resources for students here?
I have so many great contacts with coaches and parents at Providence Day. The kids I coached never thought they would be the athletes they were, and their parents were forever grateful, so I’m receiving donations from parents to help with the resources. In one case, I had a student who wasn’t getting much for her athletic aid, so I made a conscious effort to donate money to her, which helped her to almost get a full ride. When the kids are doing their part, I’m going to fight for them.
What are your short- and long-term goals for the JCSU program?
I have a three-year plan. After three years, we should have made it to the top three in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). I should have a bunch of kids who are going to graduate school or are about to start some great jobs. After that, it’s time to re-evaluate, but I don’t see myself leaving here. I want to make sure my kids take advantage of all of the opportunity around them.