NewsSep 09, 2019

Taxi Off the Pitch: Q&A with Kemar Lawrence

For Kemar Lawrence, there was no shortage of challenges to be overcome before he would achieve his dream of playing soccer professionally. Despite facing some unimaginable life circumstances, the Kingston, Jamaica native has never lost sight of the things in life he has to be thankful for. With the help of his family and his faith, Lawrence is in the midst of his fifth season with the Red Bulls and fresh off of his first All-Star appearance. The defender, nicknamed "Taxi" for his speed and stamina, spoke with the PA about staying motivated in troubling times and playing to inspire the youth in his home country.

What was your journey to MLS like?

It was really different in the sense of being from the Carribean. When you are from the Carribean and you’ve never been to the states before you haven’t experienced the weather or anything like that. I traveled before, but I hadn’t been to the states. So coming here was a totally different experience for me. Growing up watching football we mainly watched EPL or El Clásico, so we had more of an idea of what England would be like. Coming to the U.S. was an awesome experience, but getting here for my first trial was a bit difficult because I honestly didn’t want to go on trials, but it was fun in the end. The guys that I met here during that time and the staff at NYRB made the whole experience fun and easy to deal with.

Being on trial can be a difficult experience, what helped you stay motivated in the moments that weren’t easy?

To be honest, my family. As simple as that. My family motivated me and pushed me every day. My mom, my grandma, brothers, uncles, everyone. They pushed me and told me to do what I needed to do. They knew what I wanted and I knew what I wanted. I wanted to become a professional soccer player and play in one of the best environments in the world. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so they just told me everyday to continue to do me and to push myself. They told me not to let not being around them scare me and to just go out there and play fearlessly. I kept praying, one of the big things for me is always giving thanks for everything that I get. I’m a big religious person, so I have to continue to pray and give thanks. I think God got me through a lot of times where I was frustrated and didn’t know where to turn, He gave me light and direction.

Also, I wanted to show the kids from my community I grew up in that we can do this. It doesn't have to be only one or two of us that make it, it can be twenty-five of us. We’ve got talent and sometimes I feel like our downfall is that we have too much talent and we think it can get us anywhere and we don’t have to work hard. I feel like I was the definition of realizing that and I decided I would put in double or triple the work to get where I knew I wanted to go.

How special was it to make your first All-Star roster?

It was great, and knowing that Andre (Blake) had made it already made it even better. I was like 'I want to be on that roster, too.' I know in previous years I think I could have been an All-Star. A lot of people have told me that before, but that’s not something that I go around thinking about. No matter what, I am always thinking that I need to work harder and be better so that I am undeniable. I want to be the person you can’t look past and you have to pick. Coming in this year after making the Best XI in 2018, one of the things I prayed about was being able to play the way that was required in order to be picked as an All-Star. For that to happen, I was so grateful. It just shows that if you put in the work, even though it might not happen on your time, God’s timing is always perfect and it will happen at the right time. I was so grateful to get to play with that group of guys and it was really a pleasure. It was fun and I enjoyed every minute of it.

You’ve faced and overcome a lot in life, how have those experiences shaped who you are as a person and a player?

When I look at the little things that might be disappointing, I realize I’m in a great place and playing really good football. I’m here and I’m trying to get better each and every day. If I didn’t get discouraged when I was 16 and members of my family were killed in front of me, or when my house burned down, or when I was living in a boarding house and watching my mom struggle to take care of me; If I didn’t get discouraged in those situations, then how is not making a roster going to disappoint me? God has brought me through too much, injuries, everything, for me to let something like not making an All-Star roster discourage me. It’s never about getting discouraged, when you get in that mindset you start to play poorly and that’s not where I want to be.

What's your 'why?' What keeps you going?

One of the main reasons why I ever really decided to play football and make it my career was my mom and grandma. I grew up with my grandma and she was the light in everything I did. When she passed away, it broke my heart. I used to talk to her before every single game, we had a really close relationship so I felt like I didn't know what to do without her here. I started to feel like if she wasn’t here, then I should just go get a normal job. When I had kids though, I realized she would want me to go out and make sure I had a job that would ensure my kids were in the best possible situation. Everything kind of switched over in that moment to making sure my kids and my mom were ok.

Another one of the biggest reasons for me to step on the field and to just go for it and not look back is God.I feel like God has equipped me with something special, something that millions of people would want and that’s the opportunity to step out there and play this beautiful game. People would die to be out there for just one night and most of them won’t ever get that opportunity. That drives me every single day and that’s why I have to continue to thank God and just keep asking him to help me to keep loving the game and to be able to play fearlessly and with passion. I think as long as I keep continuing to do that I can have a long career.

You can follow Kemar on Twitter and Instagram.