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Lawson's challenge: Sun guard will take part in marathon festivities on behalf of Summitt

Kara Lawson was made a better person thanks to Pat Summitt, her Tennessee coach, mentor and friend.

It was Summitt who always forced Lawson to meet challenges head on, so this weekend, the Connecticut Sun guard will challenge herself on Summitt's behalf.

Lawson and husband Damien Barling will take part in the annual New York Marathon to raise money for the New York Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

Summitt was diagnosed earlier this year with early-onset Alzheimer's.

"I had an opportunity to learn so many other things from (Summitt) off the court as far as leadership, how to interact with people," Lawson said. "She challenged me to be better at interviews and speaking with people and things like that.

"Coach is just a very giving person. She's very open to helping you as a player, and helps you as much as she can when you graduate. Even now, if I need to talk to someone about advice, career decisions, life decisions, I don't have a problem calling her and asking her what she thinks about it. And I spend time with her. I make it a point to go to UT once a year if I can, not just to see her, but everybody back there."

Lawson will take part in Saturday's 5K race. Barling, who's had less wear and tear on his body over the years than Lawson, will run in Sunday's marathon. The couple is accepting donations at

Lawson's friendship with Summitt evolved gradually. Lawson was drawn to Tennessee having watched the intensity of Summitt's practices, with the belief that she'd make her realize her potential.

Lawson wanted a challenge, getting that and much more.

"I don't think I had too much of an affinity toward her early on because she was really hard," Lawson said. "You're almost just trying to stay above water pretty much. You're not worried about liking somebody or anything like that. You're just trying to keep up and trying to handle as much information into your brain as you can.

"I just felt that she was constantly on me all the time to try and push me, to not be tolerant of mistakes, and strive to have perfect possessions every day in practice. There was an expectation level, especially when you're playing the point guard position for her. That had to be met every single day."

Lawson's freshman and sophomore years were tough, but she never questioned her decision to play for Summitt.

"I looked at it as a challenge every day," Lawson said. "I knew she was pushing me, and my mindset was to take it and see how much I could carry. Trying to prove how capable I was. How strong-willed I was. How talented I was.

"Once I understood the expectations, the last two years were really, really enjoyable."

The public perception one has about the famous rarely matches reality.

Judging someone based on sound bites and what they see on television isn't a correct measure of a person's character.

Basketball fans see Summitt, the coach with the steely glare barking at players.

Tennessee players see Summitt, the person.

"She's very relatable and very easy to talk with about different things," Lawson said. "She wants to find ways to solve something. If you have a problem, she wants to help you whether it's your major, something on campus, whatever it is. She wants to find a way to make your college experience so well-rounded."


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