Carla Mendez | Contributing Writer
Queshun Watson-Riggins stares down the track knowing that this next jump might be the one.
Thousands of hours of practice all lead up to a moment that lasts no longer than a few seconds.
With adrenaline and confidence supporting the structure of his steps, he is off.
He sprints down the runway, propelling the full weight of his body forward as fast as humanly possible. Each step pushes forcefully against that all-too-familiar track.
With the expansive sea of white sand fast approaching, Watson-Riggins takes three steps, softens his hips and takes flight.
In that small window of time, he is untethered from the earth. If it weren’t for gravity’s pesky shackles dragging him down at the apex of his jump, Watson-Riggins would keep soaring forever.
The inevitable descent is fast as his fall kicks up a swirling cloud of dust.
After it all settled, the results for what could potentially be the final jump of Watson-Riggins’ collegiate career were in: 7.53 meters.
Watson-Riggins had just punched his ticket to his first-ever NCAA Championship.
“I feel good— I’m happy that I’m going to nationals for the first time, I think I’m ready to compete at a higher level,” said Watson-Riggins.
This defining moment in Watson-Riggins’ career may have occurred in the blink of an eye, but the journey to get there was anything but quick.
Watson-Riggins started his career as a track and field athlete back in 2017 during his freshman year at Sebastian River High School, where he would bring home two state championships.
After a successful high school career, Watson-Riggins came to the Panthers and immediately impressed, earning accolades left and right.
In his freshman year, he started his career with first-place finishes in both the long and triple jump at the Clemson Orange and Purple Invitational.
The following season, Watson-Riggins had a stellar outing at the Conference USA Indoor Championships, earning 16 points as he finished second in the long and triple jump.
But these achievements pale in comparison to his best performance as a Panther.
On April 22, 2022, in his junior year, Watson-Riggins recorded a 7.93-meter jump at UVA Lanningan Field in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the Outdoor Long Jump category, setting an all-time FIU record and facility record.
His performance would earn him the top spot among C-USA jumps for the season, ranking eighth in the NCAA championships and 17th in the world.
But just like with any jump, there are soaring highs and crushing lows.
2022 also saw Watson-Riggins battle a cumulative injury known as “Jumper’s knee,” a painful condition that affects the tendon of the knee that connects the kneecap to the shin bone. His body’s stress had caught up to him.
The star contemplated his return to the runway as he struggled to recover.
“It’s hard staying healthy, making sure your body is at competition level — cause there are a lot of injuries that come from track and field,” said Watson-Riggins.
“There was a point last year where I was battling a lot of injuries during the season. I had knee problems, I had ankle problems. There was just a lot of stress in my body and I didn’t get to compete to the level that I wanted to and I was thinking about giving up, but I decided to come back.”
Returning to the sport he loved made sense as jumping for Watson-Riggins is an escape: a space where he can lose himself doing something he loves.
His decision to continue was also influenced by motivation from his past and his family.
“Coming out of that place motivates me and made me realize that I was capable of doing anything I wanted as long as I worked for it. Motivation for me also comes from my family members— especially my mom and dad.”
Although painful, “Jumper’s knee” wasn’t enough to keep Watson-Riggins off the track. The adversities he faced pushed him to be better and with support from his community, he was able to persevere.
At the NCAA Tournament, Watson-Riggins finished 21st in the long jump with a 7.42-meter jump and earned himself an honorable mention All-America honors, shining on the big stage.
For this next chapter of his life, as he signs off from his collegiate competing years, Watson-Riggins has his sights set on a new goal.
“I really hope to go pro. The Olympics is what I’m going for right now,” said Watson-Riggins.
Watson-Riggins retires from FIU having significantly impacted his community and left his mark as a dedicated athlete. This is only the beginning for him.
With his skill and determination, nothing can hold him back— not even the binding laws of gravity.
Follow Carla Mendez on Twitter at @carladfmendez