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With his single-minded focus, Michael Lawson doesn’t often stop to gauge his progress. But this spring, as he approached the end of a brilliant high school career and stood on the brink of a promising collegiate future, DODDS-Europe’s premier runner did exactly that.

“Every track meet, I kind of ran my race with it in the back of my mind that I had this standard to meet,” Lawson said. “Later, I kind of just realized that…I’ve already met that standard.”

Ever the dutiful student of his chosen craft, the Kaiserslautern senior had fallen into the steady rhythm of training and recovering, of meeting and exceeding the expectations set by his current Red Raiders coaches and his future coaches at West Point. While worthy and necessary pursuits, Lawson found that he needed more to author a satisfying end to his prep career.

“I felt the need to be a leader this year,” Lawson said. “I thought that this year I could bring others with me.”

The results of that effort were largely intangible, measured in subtle ways outside of finish times and medals. But for the Stars and Stripes boys track Athlete of the Year, the change was notable.

Lawson was the European champion and Stars and Stripes boys cross country Athlete of the Year in the fall, and proceeded immediately into preparation for track season without a break. As he fought through fatigue and discomfort, he earned a renewed appreciation for the spirit of hard work and competition.

For a stoic long-distance runner conditioned to the solitude of placing one foot ahead of the other, undisturbed by outside forces or unseen opponents, this qualifies as an epiphany.

“There’s a particular personality that comes with long-distance runners. They’re certainly disciplined,” Lawson said. “I see my fellow competitors as my friends. They’re great people, they’re hard workers. I’m glad I got the opportunity to compete with them.”

Lawson’s growing appreciation for his toughest opponents didn’t prevent him from beating them at last week’s European championships.

The homestanding senior took to Kaiserslautern’s new track and adorned it with gold. On May 24, he led the Red Raiders to a win in the 3,200-meter relay and claimed first place in the 3,200-meter individual race. A day later, he took individual honors in the 800 and 1,600-meter races.

Those medals helped Kaiserslautern to a strong second-place showing as a team, behind emerging power Wiesbaden and two points ahead of archrival Ramstein.

While Lawson made it a point to engage his opponents more, he credits those same determined opponents with elevating his own performance.

“I get a little rattled when someone steps up to the plate and starts to challenge me, but I welcome that challenge,” Lawson said. “It makes both of us better.”

Lawson will attend the United States Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point next year, where he will try to walk on with the track team. He eventually plans to attend medical school.

True to form, Lawson is at his best when he has a well-laid course to follow.

“For the most part, I take comfort in knowing that I’ve got a plan,” Lawson said.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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