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Veteran Sergeant Mike whips people into shape

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There are several fitness "boot camps" across the Puget Sound area, each vowing to make participants sweat, push them to their physical limits and whip them into great shape.

But there is only one boot camp taught by someone who has actually been to the real thing.

"You don't have the right to call it a boot camp if you're not a veteran," said Mike Lawson, a Shoreline resident and owner and operator of Sgt. Mike's Boot Camp. "When I say boot camp, I'm saying I'm legitimate. I take my job very seriously."

Lawson's military service initially got him interested in the physical fitness and personal training fields. After enlisting out of high school and being stationed in Germany as a recon commando, leadership saw that the young private had a knack for physical fitness. Lawson was tasked with preparing NCOs for their upcoming physical fitness tests. If they were to fail the test, they would be discharged. Lawson didn't let that happen.

"I'd take them up these big hills and through difficult workouts," Lawson recalled with a laugh. "They all hated me."

But a majority passed their PT test because of what Lawson put them through.

After three years on active duty and another four in the Army Reserve, the Massachusetts native turned to his post military career. After earning a bachelor's degree from Keene State College in New Hampshire, Lawson decided to continue in the physical fitness career field.

"Every day I think about the military," he said. "It was a great foundation for me. The military saved my life. I grew up in a violent situation, and the military gave me structure and a real sense of purpose."

Lawson was able to apply those attributes to the next phase of his life. An all-state high school basketball player who played on the all-Army basketball team, Lawson gravitated toward training basketball players. After moving to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to his wife's family, he expanded his business venture to include teaching boot camp. In addition to running a basketball program at the Redmond Athletic Club, Lawson currently teaches boot camps at 6 a.m. twice a week in Seattle's Gas Works Park and two more in the Greenlake area of Seattle in the evenings. The veteran yells out cadence during the runs, and everything is conducted like he's leading a platoon of Soldiers. 

"I've incorporated my basketball training with my military training to put people through a tough test," said Lawson, whose boot camp was recently voted "Best In Western Washington" by KING 5 TV's Evening Magazine. "You're toasted by the end of the workout. Some people quit because they don't have the mental toughness, but I'm just giving them what they signed up for."

Being the only true boot camp also affords Lawson the chance to reflect on his military service, often giving those in his classes an inside look at something they may not be familiar with.

"You have to love what you do and take pride in the fact you're a veteran," he said. "People love veterans. You're the real deal - don't be afraid to talk about that."

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