Pioneer senior Lawrence Robuste will race for Team USA in the Special Olympic Games in Germany

Lawrence is not only an exceptional athlete, but a leader and mentor to younger students, says his teacher who has started a Go Fund Me page to support the trip to Berlin

Track star Lawrence Robuste is one of those students a teacher will always remember, says Pioneer special ed teacher John Conley.

And not just for athletic talent.

“His smile will light up a room and his laugh is guaranteed to make your day,” says Conley.

And now that light is set to shine internationally as Lawrence prepares to represent Team USA at the Special Olympics in Berlin, Germany in June.

A GoFundMe page has been organized to help him get there.

Lawrence, 18, will be among the 7,000 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners from about 170 countries competing in 24 sports in Berlin from June 17 to 25. Special Olympics World Games are held every two years.

Lawrence began participating in Special Olympics as a freshman and quickly realized that he had some incredible athleticism, Conley says.  As a freshman, Lawrence participated in the state Winter Special Olympic Games, and without ever having put on skis before, he won second place in his division.

Then at the end of his junior year, Lawrence participated in the state-level Summer Special Olympic Games—his very first track events. Lawrence dominated in every event he participated in, Conley recalls, noting that he received a silver medal in the long jump—which he had never even practiced before, followed by absolute domination in the 100 and 200-meter races. In fact, he did so well in these races that he set Michigan Special Olympic records. Those times qualified him for the World Special Olympic Games.

Lawrence said he’s never realized he was good in track and never especially liked to run.

“I like basketball,” he says.

Does running ever get boring?

“Sometimes,” he says.

How does he handle the boredom?

“I think about winning.”

Lawrence, who is on the autism spectrum, is enrolled in a self-contained classroom for students with mild cognitive impairments. He attended Estabrook Elementary in Ypsilanti and Clague Middle School and looks forward to attending Washtenaw Community College next fall.

Conley recalls that Lawrence came to Pioneer High School as a painfully shy and aloof middle schooler. He spent most of the day ignoring instruction, hiding underneath his hood, and trying to escape down one of the various lengthy hallways found at Pioneer, he says.

“Slowly he broke out of his shell and began making connections with peers and classmates alike. He wanted to open up to staff, but that would take a little more time. As with all things Lawrence, when he is ready, you will know.”

Lawrence is a member of the Pioneer Men’s Mens Track  & Field sprint unit—an intense and technical developmental sub-program within the team.

“In my 16 years of coaching, seven of those as Co-head Coach of Pioneers Mens Track Program, I don’t think I have met a more humble, quiet, and talented athlete as Lawrence Robuste,” says Co-head Coach Cortaz Paige. “He is the type of athlete that all coaches seek, one that is very ‘coach-able.'”

“We break the athlete down to root fundamentals, then build them up into strong competitive sprinters.  As we dissected Lawrence, we found that he was dedicated, hardworking, and naturally talented.  He craves technique lessons and does not shy away from the challenges  I recommend, such as adding long jump and 400m to his repertoire. It wasn’t until weeks into his training with us that I found out he has sites bigger than this high school track arena.”  

“What an awesome experience for this young man to perform on one of the highest athletic  achievement stages in the world.  Anything we can do as his sprint coaches to help him on this venture, we will go out of our way  to do.  Lawrence is a great kid and athlete to work with.” 

Pioneer Men’s Mens Track  & Field Co-head Coach Cortaz Paige

Lawrence is the third of Vanessa Marshall’s six children, and she says the entire family are proud of him. That includes stepfather Marcus Marshall, older siblings Brian, 23, and Natasia, 22, and younger brothers Michael and Romelo, who are in ninth and 10th grades at Pioneer, and Isaiah, a seventh grader at Scarlett.

Marshall, a stock-keeper at the University of Michigan, says she couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, kinder son, and says he has blossomed at Pioneer with the Peer Connections program, track events, Unified sports, and associating with John Conley and other special ed teachers.

She calls her son’s trip to Berlin “an amazing opportunity.”

“Words just can’t express how proud of him I am,” says Marshall, who hopes to accompany him there if she—a Haitian citizen—can work out some issues with her passport.

As for the GoFundMe page started by Conley?

“It would mean a whole lot,” she says. “I’m so grateful to John that he’s letting the word out about how special Lawrence is.”

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