If Bianca Stuart jumped for joy at news of her selection to the Saluki Hall of Fame, she may have covered 20 feet.
The 2009 graduate holds the SIU and Missouri Valley Conference indoor (21-6.25) and outdoor long jump (21-7.5) records. She represented her native Bahamas in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic games. She placed 16th in the past Olympics.
“It’s definitely something you have to experience to be in that situation,” Stuart said of the Olympics. “It’s indescribable. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s the dream of a lot of people. I’m one of the few hundreds of athletes that’s been able to be a part of that experience. Both times around it was a really good experience. I enjoyed competing with the best of the best of the world.”
Now living and working in Auburn, Alabama, Stuart is still competing. She is training for next year’s world championships. Another Olympic appearance remains a possibility.
“It’s too far ahead for me to make that decision,” she said. “The only place I’m focusing on right now is the World Championships. I’m not going to put a time line on my track career yet.”
Stuart’s timeline at SIU was likely predestined when then Saluki coach Connie Price-Smith recruited her older brother Nyles.
“I tell everybody that college was the best time of my life,” she said. “I really enjoyed my time at SIU. I enjoyed my dental hygiene program, just everything. I had a good time at SIU. The only thing that ran me away was the cold weather.”
What wasn’t to like?
Stuart earned seven conference championships in the long jump, four indoor and three outdoor. She is the only MVC athlete to win four indoor titles. She was a two-time All-American, placing seventh in the 2008 outdoor finals and fourth in the 2009 NCAA indoors finals.
She also competed in the 400 meters. The Salukis won the MVC indoor and outdoor titles in 2009.
While at SIU, Stuart earned a degree in dental hygiene. She works as a hygienist in Auburn.
This weekend will mark the first time she has been back to SIU since graduation.
“It means a lot to me,” she said of the induction. “I put a lot of effort and hard work into my track career as well as my dental hygiene program. Trying to juggle both of them together was pretty difficult, but I did it. Being recognized by SIU is an honor and a privilege, and I really appreciate them remembering me.
“I can’t really say how emotional it will be. I definitely miss SIU. I really don’t know. I’m pretty even keel. I don’t really express my emotions too much. I really don’t know how I will react.”
Despite her impeccable credentials, Stuart was surprised by her selection.
“Yes, actually I thought I’d have to win a medal at the Olympics to be inducted,” she said. “I was surprised to be honored this quickly and at this young age.”
Other members of the Class of 2017 are Jason Frasor, Ray Tabacci, Gwen Berry, Hubie Dunn and Alexis Moreland. Induction ceremonies will take place Friday at the SIU Arena.