Every college athlete remembers where they were on March 12, 2020.
Kent State senior track and field star TJ Lawson was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when his latest run at a national title ended before it actually started.
Stow native Lawson and his father, Golden Flashes director of track and field Bill Lawson, had gone through final preparations to compete in the heptathlon at the 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships and were at their hotel in Albuquerque when a bizarre batch of bad news caused by the coronavirus began to surface.
"First we heard that there would be no spectators allowed at the meet, including parents. That was a hit," said TJ Lawson, a former Stow-Munroe Falls High School standout. "My mom was in town to watch me. Some parents had flown in from other countries just to watch the meet, so everyone was upset about that (decision).
"Then a few hours later, we found out there would be no more indoor or outdoor (track and field) season."
One day before Lawson was scheduled to compete in the national meet, concerns over the coronavirus caused officials to cancel the rest of the winter and spring sports seasons. That was a double-whammy for Lawson, who was primed to compete for national titles in the heptathlon during the indoor track and field season and the decathlon during the outdoor campaign.
"There were a bunch of teams at our hotel, and when the news broke everybody was down in the lobby just kind of walking around, heads down, not really knowing what to do. They not only cancelled indoors, but the whole year," said Lawson. "At that point we didn't really know the scope of COVID-19. It was a big hit, especially for seniors like me."
Lawson has taken more than his fair share of shots during his Golden Flashes track career.
"I don't think most people realize how much adversity he's faced, what he's waded through to get himself back in championship form," said Bill Lawson. "His entire career, he's been on a little bit of a roller-coaster ride."
Lawson captured both indoor and outdoor state championships in the long jump at Stow, and was one of the most sought-after heptathlon/decathlon recruits in the nation when he decided to compete for his father at Kent State. Health issues began to surface during his freshman year with the Flashes.
"He always favored his one hip a little bit in high school, but it didn't hold him back much when he was younger," said Bill Lawson. "He came to college, got through the first semester of training, then had some problems with that hip and found out that he had a hip labral tear coming out of high school that we didn't even know about."
Lawson needed six months to recover from hip surgery, and redshirted as a freshman. He quickly emerged on the national scene in 2017, earning Second Team All-American honors in the decathlon, then became a First Team All-American after finishing fifth in the heptathlon at the 2018 Indoor Championships with a school-record total of 5,934 points.
Lawson carried that momentum into the outdoor season. Then the injury bug bit once again.
"He injured his hamstring at the conference meet, then went to nationals but was not able to finish," said Bill Lawson. "He rehabbed back, and got himself to the point where he was in great shape and ready to go once again."
Lawson broke the school record by scoring 7,876 points to win the decathlon at the 2019 Tennessee Relays, then captured his third straight MAC title. He entered the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships healthy and brimming with confidence, and placed among the top four in four of five events on day one of nationals.
"I was in great position last year (at the national meet). I knew I could come back day two and win it," said Lawson. "I don't go to the national championship meet planning to get second or third place. I'm there to win. That's how I was raised, how I've been in athletics all my life. You go to win."
Lawson's bid for a national title ended abruptly during the first event of day two, the 110-meter hurdles. He tweaked his hamstring while clearing the first hurdle, then stumbled over hurdle two and broke his collarbone.
Lawson flew home, had surgery the next day, then rehabbed all summer and into the fall. He came back for the 2020 indoor season stronger than ever, repeating as MAC champion in the heptathlon with a meet-record 5,723 points.
"Actually he held a little in reserve at the MAC meet, just to make sure he was ready to go to nationals and go big," said Bill Lawson. "He told me early Thursday in Albuquerque, 'Dad, I think tomorrow's the day.' Then about two hours later they called the season."
Fortunately for TJ Lawson, once the coronavirus calms down his track and field career will continue.
Lawson has already qualified in the decathlon for the Olympic Trials, which will likely take place in June or July of 2021. The Summer Olympics originally set for 2020 have been rescheduled for July 23-August 8 of 2021 in Tokyo.
The NCAA has also granted spring sports student-athletes an extra year of eligibility, so Lawson could compete for the Flashes during the 2021 outdoor season.
"I've had a lot of people ask me what I'm going to do. Right now I have no clue what I'm going to do," said Lawson. "There's a lot more to it then just doing one more year of track (at Kent State). There's so many things still up in the air from the financial side, eligibility, academics. I want to hear more clearly what exactly my options are.
"I'll tell you one thing for sure, I'm not done with track and field. That feels really good. I really hurt for the seniors who just academically and life-wise are not able to do another year, even if it was offered, and are just done with track. What an awful way to go out of the sport."
Dealing with adversity throughout his career has prepared Lawson to handle March 12, 2020, the current quarantine, and whatever else life throws at him in the future.
"It's another road block," he said, "but you can get around road blocks."