After Shawn Lawson graduated from Crawford High School in 1982, she wanted to do research on rats at UCLA. If that fell through, she wanted to go to Stanford.
And if that didn't work out, she figured she could attend USC and play trumpet in the Trojan marching band.
Stanford turned down her application. She decided not to attend UCLA because its undergraduate program in her major, psychology-physiology, was not exactly what she expected it to be. Finally, she scrapped her USC marching band ideas for her final contingency--the Occidental College pep band.
"I decided I didn't want to get in over my head, socially," Lawson said. "I was into research in biology and psychology, and at UCLA the funds were reserved for graduate students. Occidental had 1,550 students, with only 30 graduate students, so it was geared toward undergraduates. I did have a choice."
Lawson's choice was a good one. She will pick up her degree this weekend.
And she has picked up some other honors along the way . . . in track and field.
In the last week of May, Lawson, 22, won her second heptathlon title in the last three years at the NCAA Division III track and field finals at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. She won her first title in 1984 and placed second last year.
At La Crosse, Lawson won three of the seven events, taking first in the 100-meter hurdles, the 200 meters and the shotput. Her javelin mark of 34.48 meters was good for second.
In a meet earlier this season, Lawson took first in all of her events.
"We called her 'Shawn Lawson University,' " teammate and roommate Kim Donaldson said. "She personally scored more points (48) than Cal Tech, La Verne and Whittier (colleges competing against Occidental) combined."
Donaldson, also 22, has been rooming with Lawson for four years.
"They (the school) just put us together," Donaldson said. "We've been together since. We even room together on the road and at nationals."
At Crawford, Lawson was a member of the 1981 mile-relay team which still holds the second-fastest time in the San Diego Section at 3:55.68. The best she could do in her other event, the long jump, was 18-feet 6-inches.
"There are a lot of people walking around who can do that," Lawson said. "Coach Bill Harvey converted me to the heptathlon because of my size (5-7, 145 pounds) and because I wasn't particularly good in any one event."
Said Harvey: "Someone would have to be silly not to put her in the heptathlon. I could see right away, when she opened my door, that she would be a great one. In the past three years, only one person has beaten her. She has always had very good natural strength and, when she started working with weights, she improved tremendously."
Lawson, who can be headstrong, has clashed at times with Harvey. At the nationals three weeks ago, Lawson asked a judge if she could shift her starting time in the shotput. She got it changed, but ended up running from the shotput to the long jump and back because the time switch conflicted with the long jump.
"She tends to put herself behind the eight ball," Harvey said, "but she gets right out of it."
The heptathlon is a demanding sport. "You have to be versatile," Lawson said. "You are trying to focus on four or five different things before each event, but you have to keep everything into perspective. When doing seven events you take in the whole picture, but you also have to take them step by step."
Patience is important in the heptathlon. Lawson had to learn to execute her first event, forget about it, rest awhile and concentrate on the next event.
"That carries to everything in life," she said. "If you do bad in your first event, you can't worry about it, you just go on. As a freshman, it took a while to learn."
Lawson said she has come a long way in four years.
"I learned a lot about competing," Lawson said, "and that's more important than winning or being an All-American."
Or studying rats at UCLA or marching with the USC band.