‘I’m not going to lose’

story by Tony Phifer
photos by John Eisele

published June 6, 2019

It is ironic that Shadae Lawrence – the most talented female discus thrower to ever compete for Colorado State University – would call her arrival in Fort Collins 10 months ago “a leap of faith.”

After all, it’s her twin sister, Shardia, who is known for leaping. Shardia holds the Kansas State University record in the women’s triple jump and will be competing this week in her sixth NCAA Championship meet.

Shadae Lawrence, though, took an enormous chance in August 2018 when she left Kansas State and her sister behind to seek a new start. Sure, she had already won an NCAA title as a sophomore in 2017, and she was runner-up in 2018 and fourth place in 2016. But her coach was leaving, and she wanted more. She wanted to be great.

“I knew that (CSU coach Brian) Bedard was one of the best discus coaches in the country, and I knew I needed a lot of technical work,” the Jamaican native said. “I could have gone to any school in the country, really, but I believed Coach Bedard could make me better.

“I trusted in God and took a leap of faith. I was sad to leave my sister, but something was telling me I was destined to be here.”

So, Lawrence, the two-time Jamaican discus champion, left Manhattan, Kansas, aboard a Greyhound bus and headed to CSU, located in a state she had never visited, to work with a coach she did not know. It was early August, and she wasn’t even admitted as a student until 10 days before fall semester classes started.

“It was a scramble to get Shadae here but we knew it would be worth it,” Bedard said. “You have to admire her courage. She left her twin sister and a boyfriend, and for her career’s sake she decided to come here. I don’t know why she decided to take that leap of faith, but I’m sure glad she did.”

‘I don’t want to be a thrower’

Shadae Lawrence takes a break during practice before the 2019 NCAA Track and Field Championship meet in Austin, Texas.

It wasn’t the longest move Lawrence has made in her young life. Track and field is the national sport of Jamaica and, like most kids growing up in the island nation, Lawrence was eager to join the fun. She found her event – the high jump – and was doing well when she started to grow. Soon, she was too big for the high jump, and her high school coach suggested she try the discus.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want to be a thrower,’ but eventually I started loving it because I was having some success,” she said.

By the time she graduated she was throwing 157 feet – which would have been the best mark at the recent Colorado state high school track meet by 15 feet – and she and her sister signed with K-State.

“My sister was better than me in high school,” she said with a laugh. “K-State really wanted her but we wanted to stay together, so they signed us both.”

That’s when she started to blossom. By the end of her freshman season she was Big 12 Conference champion and freshman of the year. She finished fourth in the 2016 NCAA outdoor meet, earning the first of her three first-team All-America honors, by throwing 202 feet, 9 inches – an astounding 45-foot improvement in a single year.

“I was thinking, ‘This is crazy,’” she said. “I never imagined I would get that good so fast. I was inspired to get even better.”

The momentum carried over to the Jamaican championships, where – at age 19 – she qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I knew I wasn’t developed enough to compete for a medal but I was excited to compete against the girls I had been watching from around the world,” she said. “I was really fascinated with how they trained, and that really influenced me. They were much different from me – I was still raw, and I saw that I needed to work on my technique.”

First K-State discus champion

Her improvement continued during her sophomore year, when she won the 2017 NCAA title with a career-best throw of 205 feet, four inches. She was the first discus champion in K-State’s storied track and field history.

“I never dreamed I would be the national champion,” Lawrence said. “It was an amazing feeling.”

She also qualified for her first World Championships, finishing 15th. The girl who didn’t want to throw was becoming an international force.

She fell just short of a second NCAA title in 2018, coming in second to Arizona State’s Maggie Ewing on the final throw of the competition. That’s when she started to wonder if it might be best for her to find a different coach, someone who could refine her technique.

“I really want to leave because I was not improving, but I didn’t know how to tell my coach (K-State throws coach Greg Watson),” she said. “The next day I found out that coach Watson was leaving for LSU, and that made it so much easier for me to leave.”

That initiated a wild scramble. Lawrence reached out to Mostafa Hassan, CSU’s two-time NCAA shot put champion, to see if he would recommend Bedard. She had met Hassan at various competitions and trusted his viewpoint.

“It just felt like I should be here, in Fort Collins,” she said.

Eager to learn

Shadae Lawrence practices with coach Brian Bedard before the 2019 NCAA Track and Field Championship meet.

Once she enrolled in classes – she’ll graduate in December from the College of Liberal Arts with a degree in economics – Lawrence started daily workouts with her new coach. Bedard was impressed by her talent and work ethic – and surprised by her lack of technique.

“I was really surprised by what she didn’t know about throwing the discus,” said Bedard, who has coached numerous CSU All-Americans, including 1998 NCAA discus champion Casey Malone. “I knew I only had one year with Shadae to tinker with her technique, and I didn’t want to mess up someone who’s had enormous success. But she has been great – I’ve gotten no resistance from her on anything I’ve put on her workout sheets. Her eagerness to learn is impressive.”

While Beard has spent the past 10 months refining Lawrence’s technique, he has been constantly amazed by her talent.

“I’ve never coached anyone with the kind of release velocity or spin rate on the discus that she has,” he said. “That’s special – a gift. She doesn’t always have the best turns in the ring but then the discus comes out of her hand and – pow! I’ve never seen anything like it.

“What she’s done to this point, she’s hands-down the best that’s ever come through the doors here at CSU.”

Longest in two decades

That description pretty much sums up what Bedard witnessed on May 11 in Fresno, California, at the Mountain West Championships. That’s when Lawrence sent a sonic boom of a message to the track and field world with a league- and school-record throw of 213-4 to beat runner-up and teammate Kelsey Bedard – the coach’s daughter – by nearly 30 feet.

The throw was the longest by a collegian in more than 20 years; only two women in NCAA history have thrown farther.

“Really, I was just shooting for the points to help my team win the title,” Lawrence said. “When I let it go I didn’t know how to react – hitting 65 meters (213 feet) was not something I was prepared for. It was a pretty incredible feeling. I had no idea I could do that.”

Shadae Lawrence
Shadae Lawrence
Shadae Lawrence

As a result, she enters the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas, as the favorite to win her second title and become just the second female champion from CSU, joining hammer thrower Loree Smith in 2005. She is one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Bowerman Award, collegiate track and field’s highest individual honor.

As a two-time Jamaican national champion, and a veteran of three NCAA meets, the Olympics and the World Championships, the 23-year-old said she is ready to meet the challenge.

“I can say with confidence that I am a championship thrower – I like to compete in big meets,” she said. “I’m really confident. It’s my last NCAA competition and I want to leave a legacy. I want to be the best.

“I’m not going to lose.”