GARY | Danielle Riggins was out in front in the 100-yard hurdles final at the AAU Regionals held earlier this month at Illinois State University when tragedy struck.
No. Let's take that back. Riggins knows the meaning of a real tragedy.
"I was mad," Riggins said about tripping over a hurdle with the finish line in sight -- she had earlier recorded the meet's fastest time in the preliminaries, "but that wasn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me."
Last summer, Riggins's older brother, Travis, was shot to death in Hammond.
"It was a hard time getting over it," Riggins said of her brother, who was also a good athlete. "I didn't want to go (to the 2011 AAU Junior Olympics) afterwards, but I did, anyway."
Later, the Hammond native moved out of the area and placed second in the 100 hurdles at the Wisconsin high school state meet as a sophomore at Tremper High School in Kenosha.
This summer, Riggins returned to the area to be with friends and to rejoin the LakeShore Jets Track Club based in Gary. She is one of 38 Jets to have qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics taking place next week in Humble, Tex.
"Though she pressed too hard and got a bad break in the hurdles, she should do real well in the 100, 200 and 400 (dashes)," club founder and head coach Shawn Carson said. "In fact, she hasn't been touched in the 400 all year."
Among the large contingency going to Texas is Daronte Buggs, who was a 2011 AAU national champion in the 800 run and the 1,600 relay with fellow Jets Barrie Wesby, Carlton Simms and Jaqwae Ellison in the Youth Boys (ages 13-14) division. Buggs and much of the relay team have moved up to Intermediate (15-16).
"I like to get out front and stay there," Buggs said of his 800 strategy. "I hate it when I get boxed in."
"The thing with Daronte is that he has tremendous kick," Carson said. "When he's leading or almost even with the leader with 150 yards to go, he always wins."
The relay team has picked up Darius Bonds to replace Wesby, who is still in the Youth Boys division.
"I'm not on a relay team (for AAU Nationals)," said Wesby, a two-time AAU All-American, "but I did make in the 100, 200 and 400."
Wesby is coached by his older brother, Branden Wesby, who was a 1,600 relay state champion with West Side in 2007.
"I just try to teach him to be a student-athlete," the elder Wesby said. "It takes more than athletics to get into college."
Carson believes another Jet has a great chance to continue his college.
"He's an honor student and a multi-event athlete," Carson said of Khalil Muhammad, who will compete in the decathlon in the Young Men's division. "Programs like athletes who can do more than one thing."
"When you do (the decathlon), you're often training in the morning, afternoon and evening," said Muhammad, who will be a junior at West Side. "Three-a-days are common."
The LakeShore Jets were started in 2005. Carson said he number of qualifiers is a team record, though some of the Jets' coaches, including Muhammad's father, remembers a greater number several years back.
"But whatever, it's going to cost us a lot to take all of us down there," said Carson, who believes all of the aforementioned athletes, as well as sprinters Christian Haggard, 10, and Martin Scheile, 14, and former West Side standout hurdler Kourtney Mabone, who earned a track scholarship to the University of Toledo, have a good chance to medal.