Senior Winston Lawson won the 2018 NAIA Men’s Indoor National Championship in Heptathlon, the first athlete to do so for Vanguard since 1996.
Lawson, who has competed in track for seven years and the National Championship for the past three, described winning the competition as “a lifelong dream.”
The heptathlon, where athletes compete in a 60-meter or 55-meter dash, long jump, short put, high jump, either 60-meter or 55-meter hurdles, and the 1000 meter run, gathered the best from across America in a fierce competition.
Lawson said he and his coach started training before the normal training season to prepare for Nationals. Coming off of a broken ankle in from last year’s competition, Lawson needed to balance not only training, but strengthening and recovery.
But despite the obstacle of an injury, Lawson admitted the true struggle was want of support for the track and field team.
“I feel like in the past years, I haven’t really had that much support. I mean, as much as everyone can, [but] everyone’s kind of busy and we don’t have a track on campus,” Lawson said.
Lawson strives to support his other fellow athletes.
“I know how it feels for the track athletes not being able to have too many people there and watch us. I don’t hold it against people, it’s like an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of thing,” Lawson said.
Just as with meets, there was something different about the atmosphere as well this season, according to Lawson. This season he has felt plenty of support for the entire team.
“I’ve been seeing it on the social media accounts… they’ve been posting a lot more about Vanguard, and not just at track meets, but in practice, so people can see we’re working our butts off out there, too,” Lawson said.
Lawson credits the coaches of the basketball team, Coach and Athletic Director Rhett Soliday and Coach Taylor Kelly, with being just two of the key figures who were instrumental in providing the encouragement he needed.
Lawson said having support and encouragement made a huge impact on him, allowing him to go into the competition stress-free.
“They were just showering me with love. I felt like I had a whole team behind me this time around,” Lawson said. For Lawson, fan support really was what made all the difference for this year’s competition, crediting it as the thing that helped him the most to win.
“It’s surprising; most people would probably say they trained really hard, but, I mean, that’s a given. You’re in sports because you train really hard. But I feel like the support really took a lot of stress off of it,” Lawson said.
And the victory came at long last: Lawson broke his ankle at last year’s competition, though still competed in some of his events, including javelin throwing, pole-vaulting, and running a 1500.
“I’ve come up short so many times,” Lawson said. “I used to compete, and I’d get to the big meet, and I’d just have something happen where I didn’t win, or I got hurt, and I was just playing catch-up the rest of the competition.”
But while last year resulted in a disastrous injury, this year the competition was the best he could hope for.
“I was only a few points off from making the U.S. Trials, so I mean next year, that’s definitely the goal, but this time around, I was just happy to get enough points to win Nationals,” Lawson said.
Lawson said his team has been consistently getting better and working hard and the school should be expecting great things from his teammates.
“There’s tons of people on the team with incredible talent. They’re working it out, they’re putting in their time. I feel like Vanguard’s gonna have a lot of contenders for national titles,” Lawson said.
Already looking forward to next year’s competition, his aim is to qualify for the U.S. Trials. He will take next semester off and take his remaining 12 units in the spring in order to compete as a student in next year’s competition.
“Coming back from Nationals…I’ve already felt what it tastes like, so next year, duplicating it and getting to the U.S. Trials, that’s my end goal,” Lawson said. “Yeah, people have Olympic dreams, but my dream was so manageable and this last time being so close… next year, I can obtain it. I feel like I’m right there.”