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Homewood High School senior Caroline Lawrence clears the bar during a practice session Dec. 1 at Waldrop Stadium. Lawrence is the state’s top-ranked high jumper.
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Caroline Lawrence is the type of athlete coaches dream about. Well, at least that’s what Homewood High School head track and field coach Tom Esslinger said.
Esslinger, now in his 12th year at Homewood, said Lawrence possesses a rare blend of drive and dedication that permeates all aspects of her life, in athletics or otherwise.
“Not only is she a great athlete, but she’s also just a great person, takes care of academics, is involved in the community and is nice to everyone,” Esslinger said. “She is really just representative of what we want our program to represent overall.”
Given her status as the state’s top female high jumper, Lawrence, a senior, is one of Homewood’s most recognizable ambassadors at track and field meets. This indoor season, she already has set a new personal best — with a clearance of 5 feet, 7 inches — that broke the facility record at the Birmingham CrossPlex, which has hosted nearly every indoor competition in Alabama since 2012.
But Lawrence’s excellence, as Esslinger alluded to, extends beyond the track. She’s found success in nearly every endeavor.
When Lawrence isn’t jumping — or running or lifting — chances are she can be found with her nose in a book, studying and writing as she motors through her final year of high school.
Lawrence has maintained a stellar 4.2 GPA throughout her time at Homewood High. She also scored a 31 on the ACT college entrance exam.
“She’s concentrated on her study. Just like when she’s out here, she’s focused 100 percent on practice and getting better,” said Lawrence’s high jump coach, Deanna Swope, following an afternoon practice at Waldrop Stadium. “Every minute she fills up.”
She certainly appears to. In addition to juggling academics and athletics, Lawrence is a student government representative and vice president of Key Club. She’s also actively involved at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.
“It can get pretty busy,” Lawrence said, “but I like it. I like doing everything.”
Her diligence hasn’t gone unnoticed. This fall, she was recognized as Homewood’s recipient of the Wendy’s High School Heisman award. The accolade, according to its official website, recognizes student-athletes “who believe that good enough is never really good enough.”
“It was a great feeling, and I was so thankful to my community and school for giving me that opportunity,” Lawrence said. “It was another dream come true.”
According to Lawrence, she fulfilled her first dream last indoor track season.
Since she started competing in seventh grade, Lawrence has proved to be an above average high jumper.
In her first season, she cleared a bar that stood 4-10 — a notable accomplishment for an athlete who at the time was only about 7 inches taller.
Over the next three years, Lawrence increased her personal-best jump by 4 inches. Five times she scored points at the state track and field meet.
But amid all her success, Lawrence said something was still missing. She found it last fall, just in time for the 2015-2016 indoor season.
“It just clicked one day, like everything I had been doing,” Lawrence said. “I had always been jumping high, but I never really had the form for it. It just clicked.”
The addition of a refined jumping form to Lawrence’s already potent combination of natural athleticism — she used to play basketball and volleyball — and ideal build — she’s now 5-9 — transformed the then-junior into an unstoppable force last school year.
“A lot of it is muscle memory, just like getting it down and getting the hang of it,” Lawrence said of her form. “But when I’m in the air, I’m thinking about getting my head back to create more space between my hips and the bar to get over and clear it.”
Rarely beaten, Lawrence added 4 inches to her personal-best height during the indoor and outdoor seasons. First, she improved from 5-2 to 5-4. That’s the height at which she made her original dream come true.
At February’s state indoor championships, Lawrence cleared the 5-4 bar to capture her first individual state title. She beat the runner-up finisher by 2 inches.
“I never even thought I could do it,” she said. “It was a dream come true, honestly.”
But Lawrence didn’t settle there. Two months later — at the state outdoor meet — she leaped over a 5-6 bar to claim her second title.
Esslinger said Lawrence’s breakout campaign, which also included an All-State finish in heptathlon and a leg on the Patriots’ state champion mile relay, surpassed his own expectations.
As a sophomore, Lawrence had battled a pair of stress fractures in her left foot. The injury had limited her ability to jump.
“You could just kind of tell she had that special drive, special determination to overcome anything that kind of got in her way,” Esslinger said. “And she really did it.”
More dreams to chase
A lifelong Auburn fan, Lawrence already has made her college decision. In the fall, she’ll join the Tigers track and field program and begin working toward a degree in nursing.
“My heart’s just always been at Auburn,” said Lawrence, whose parents and siblings all attended the university. “I love it there.”
But until then, Lawrence will look to defend her state medals and help Homewood chase a state title. The Patriots have placed second the past four indoor seasons.
Lawrence will play a key role if the team is to stump the streak. In addition to high jumping, she will compete in the horizontal jumps, sprints and hurdles.
More dreams, it seems, could be on the brink of fulfillment. Any obstacles Lawrence encounters along the way are bars merely waiting to be cleared.
“She’s just a great example of hard work, and what you can do when you work hard and use your talents that you’ve been given,” Swope said.