By Rowan Kavner | LSU Student
LSU distance runner Laura Carleton stood and waited as the main scoreboard at LSU's Bernie Moore Stadium froze momentarily. She had just run her heat of the 1,500 meters and had to wait on a third preliminary heat to determine if she qualified for the Sunday finals at the Southeastern Conference Championships.
"I knew which girls I had to be in front of," Carleton said. "That's never fun."
The Lake Charles native made it. Her time of 4 minutes, 25.25 seconds moved her into Sunday's final, which she ran in 4 minutes, 22.31 seconds to set a new personal record. She went on to score three points for the Lady Tigers with a sixth-place finish in the Sunday finals.
It may not seem like a monumental feat for an athlete on the No. 2 team in the nation, but Carleton's journey from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge is unlike most of the national and international stars on the highly-rated Lady Tigers track and field team.
Carleton, one of the top distance runners in the state of Louisiana for the Class of 2008, won the Louisiana high school titles in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters before starting her search for a college.
She wasn't sold on staying in state and or on running. After graduating from St. Louis High School with honors, she had the grades to attend a plethora of schools without needing to focus on athletics.
"As I got to my later years of high school, I thought maybe I should try this running thing in college."
LSU seemed like the obvious choice. Her mother and father both attended LSU and her grandfather, Dave McCarty, played on the 1958 national champion LSU football team.
"We've come to football games since we were really little," Carleton said. "I've always loved LSU. I wanted to look at other places for college, but in the end it won me over."
After talking to LSU Assistant Women's Track Coach Mark Elliott, who would be her personal distance coach, she knew she wanted to be part of the Tiger team, and she walked on.
LSU head coach Dennis Shaver had no qualms adding to the Lady Tigers a determined athlete who was as dedicated in the classroom as she is on the track.
Even he couldn't have predicted how well Carleton would handle her business in both aspects of being a student-athlete.
Carleton, a business major, maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA, completing her degree requirements in only three years. She won the University Medal, posting the top cumulative GPA of her graduating class in May 2011 is now getting her MBA at LSU. After sitting out her sophomore season with the stress fracture, Carleton will have one more year to compete for the Lady Tigers.
"She's just a rarity to be honest," Shaver said. "She's got such self-discipline, so focused on the academics and the success she's had there. Elliott has done a great job as her personal coach in that event."
Carleton didn't do much work during the indoor track and field season her freshman year, though she competed in the outdoor SEC Championships, earning 17th place in the 800 meters and 20th place in the 1,500 meters.
"It was kind of like just getting a workout," Carleton said.
She wasn't used to failure. While she maintained her high grade point average, she continued to better her running times before suffering a stress fracture and sitting out the spring of her sophomore season.
It didn't stop her. She returned her junior year more determined than ever.
She began dropping more personal records than she had in her career, culminating in a then career-best time of 4 minutes, 23.21 seconds for the third-fastest preliminary time in the 1,500 meters at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
"To see her really improve each year by leaps and bounds really and put herself into a position where as a walk-on she's competing to score us points in championship meets I think just says a lot about the kind of self-discipline she has and how motivated she us," Shaver said. "We couldn't be more proud of her."