Kara Lawson will run the 5K event on Nov. 5 – its route includes New York City streets and the final stretch of the marathon in Central Park – and her husband, Damien Barling, will take on the 26.2-mile marathon on Nov. 6.
The couple are running the races to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s to honor Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt, who made the announcement last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“When we heard the news you immediately think, ‘What can you do?’ ” Lawson said in a phone interview with Inside Tennessee. “You are racking your brain as to what you can do to make an impact and help. We were in the middle of our (WNBA) season so there wasn’t too much that we could do when it was first announced
“We thought that would be a great opportunity and a great avenue to raise awareness and raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. It all came together really quickly. We wanted to do something in a timely fashion, and we wanted to do something before the team’s season started, because I know Coach wants the focus on the team during the season.”
Summitt was appreciative of the couple’s efforts.
“Obviously I am very fond of Kara and Damien,” Summitt said. “They are great people. It’s one of those things that kind of touches your heart.”
Lawson, who plays for the Connecticut Sun, is used to having Barling in the stands to cheer for her. That role switches for the run.
“I guess it is,” Lawson said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to watch him.”
She laughed and noted the hope was for good weather in New York in early November so her spectator status would be as comfortable as he is during the summer.
“I am hoping that the weather is good for both ends, because he doesn’t have to worry about it raining or being cold,” Lawson said. “It’s always temperature controlled in the arena. So, hopefully it’s not too cold out there for him as well.
“I have some friends who ran marathons through rainstorms and that can add a different element that makes it more difficult.”
The former Northern California radio personality – D-Lo, as he was known on the air, and Lawson met in Sacramento when she played for the Monarchs – is now a personal trainer and is in excellent physical condition, but this will be Barling’s first marathon.
“He keeps himself in pretty good shape,” Lawson said. “It’s more the distance and logging the mileage. He ran through the summer before he knew this was happening. The high mileage stuff will be the biggest challenge.”
Barling had already completed a half marathon of 13.1 miles.
“He’ll just have to do twice that is what I tell him,” Lawson said.
Lawson is enlisting some help to hunt for Barling on the course. The race attracts some two million New Yorkers and visitors as spectators.
“We’re going to try and navigate our way through the course to try and hopefully see him two or three times,” Lawson said. “I have heard that it’s kind of hard to sometimes see that person you’re cheering for because there are so many people there that are running such a popular event and then there are so many spectators as well.”
Technology will help. Lawson intends to use a website to track him. She also has human assistance.
“I have some good friends in New York City that know the city and I have some cousins there, too, that will all be with me so they can help me as far as getting around and knowing how to navigate whether by train or walking to get to different spots so that we can cheer for him,” Lawson said.
Lawson also was looking forward to her 5K race and then being a part of the festivities for the marathon.
“I think the 5K is basically the last 3.1 miles of the marathon route so you get to run the same part of the race that all the marathoners do, which will be pretty cool through Central Park,” Lawson said. “It’s right up there with some of the best marathons in the world. It’s certainly for runners a bucket list marathon. It’s a big event so we are really looking forward to it.”
After that weekend, Lawson will shift to her television work with ESPN covering women’s basketball.
“I start my ESPN stuff in the middle of November and that will run through the Final Four in Denver next year,” Lawson said. “It will hit full throttle for me rather quickly.
“It’s exciting that another season is ready to go, and I think this has an opportunity to be a really competitive year in women’s college basketball.”
The couple now make their home in Connecticut and enjoy visiting New York.
“We try to go down to the city when we can for events and shows and shopping,” Lawson said. “It’s become a city that we really enjoy.”
Lawson also will train and keep in shape this winter in case USA Basketball comes calling in the spring. The 2012 Summer Olympics are in London, and Lawson earned a gold medal with the USA team in Beijing in 2008. The National Team will be announced in 2012.
“It’s all fluid until late spring,” Lawson said. “You are never certain one way or another because there is so much talent. We are a country that has dominated the world stage, because of our depth of talent. There are a lot of players in the pool. Every player that is selected to be in the pool is a player that is worthy of ultimately being on the team. That’s how good the depth is in our country.
“Absolutely it is something that I would love to be a part of again and that I hope I get an opportunity to be a part of, but you just have to wait and see. That is what I had to do the last time as well. You have to continue to focus on being healthy and work on improving your game so that if you do get the opportunity, you’re prepared for it.”
In the meantime, Lawson is working to raise money for the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Contributions can be made online at the couple’s Donation Page
“Obviously it’s for a great cause,” Summitt said. “It’s going to touch a lot of people that might not come forward and say, ‘I’ve got dementia.’ Hopefully they will feel like there are ways that they can handle it.”
The long orange line of the Lady Vols has lined up behind Summitt after her medical disclosure.
“I am sure it has helped her tremendously just having the support and the positive interaction not just with former players but coaches, people that she’s worked with or people that she’s coached against,” Lawson said. “There has been a lot of support throughout the women’s basketball community for Coach Summitt.”
The news of the Lawson/Barling running team was tinged with some pre-announcement humor when Barling – falling back on his radio personality and marketing ability – issued a teaser via social media that the couple had some news.
Online speculation was that Lawson was pregnant and given the echo chamber effect of the Internet, it spread quickly.
“I had friends and people in my family calling me and asking me and they actually knew what the announcement was,” Lawson said. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? You know what it is.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, OK.’
“I just found it pretty funny that people actually thought we would make an announcement like that on Facebook. That’s not the way it’s going to be announced if it does happen by teasing it on social media, that’s for sure.
“Damien knew when he posted it the way he did he knew people would speculate. That was the purpose on his end of the initial tweet to pique everyone’s curiosity to drum up an audience. Anytime you’re doing something like this your biggest challenge is to let people know what you’re doing to raise awareness.”
Summitt laughed when told of how the initial announcement went a tad astray but she noted, “I can’t wait until they have a child. That will be great.”
Lawson felt the need to do something to help Summitt. She has been joined by thousands who called, sent cards and posted tributes to Summitt online, including a “We’ve got your back Pat” page on Facebook that has more than 23,000 followers.
“Sometimes when you’re a coach at that level and you are competitive and demand so much from yourself and from your program, you don’t take inventory probably as much as you should in terms of recognizing what you have accomplished and what the program has accomplished and how people that you impacted,” Lawson said.
“I think that is everybody trying to let her know the value that she’s had in their lives and in their careers.”
“I was overwhelmed actually and very appreciative,” Summitt said. “But I don’t want it to be all about me. I want to be able to help other people know that you can live your life with dementia.”