A previous version of this article included a photo, which misidentified Will Eskew as Draven Crist. The article has since been updated, and The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
The tears came from both of them, Draven Crist and Nicole Hudson, as soon as the North Carolina high jumper cleared the bar, bounced off the mat and locked eyes with his position coach.
He ran to Hudson and embraced her, almost lifting her off the ground. She pushed him in the back in excitement. Then, the redshirt sophomore transfer from Western Carolina stood there alone, with both hands over his head, in disbelief of what he had accomplished on this Saturday afternoon in Eddie Smith Field House.
Crist had just jumped seven feet for the first time in his career. The Art & Linda Maillet UNC Open was only Crist's fourth time putting on a North Carolina uniform — and the second and final home meet for the Tar Heels this spring season.
His previous best was a jump of 6 feet and 8 inches. On Saturday, he topped that mark with a jump of 6 feet and 10 inches. Then, a few attempts later, he outdid himself again: this time, with a jump of 7.025 feet.
“It’s just been a long time,” Crist said. “I’m very impatient. I wanted it for a very long time. So once I broke it, it was just shear joy and happiness. Nothing more. Just pure happiness.”
When Crist arrived at UNC in 2016, he knew about the program’s rich high jump history. The top-five high jumpers in the school's history have each leapt over 7 feet and 2 inches. The last time a Tar Heel jumped over seven feet was during the 2012 indoor season.
Crist had some big shoes to fill, but that was something he’d been used to all his life. His father, Kevin Crist, was a high jumper at Florida State and cleared a jump of 7 feet and 6 inches. There was also his uncle, who was a 1984 Olympic decathlete.
“It’s kind of like he came in here with 230 pounds on his back trying to get that off,” said Hudson, an assistant coach and UNC graduate herself. “And there would be times when he would just get so emotional because he wants it so bad."
Coming from such a talented pedigree of high jumpers, Crist has always felt he had to live up to this last name.
“He used to say, ‘I want to earn my last name. I want to be a Crist. I’m not a Crist until I’ve jumped seven feet,’” Hudson said. “Looking at him come off the mat, I just saw the tears in his eyes and my eyes started watering up. I’m even getting emotional talking about it now.”
The jump was good for fifth best in the ACC this season and top 40 in the nation. However, Crist still has a long way to go to break into an exclusive group of high jumpers.
Crist’s leap cleared his own 6-foot-10 height, but Hudson mentioned Crist still is a couple inches away from top-five all-time in UNC history. Still, he has his eyes set on breaking the records of those within his own family.
“Seven feet — it’s a mental aspect,” Crist said. “Jumping over your height, it’s hard. Breaking (seven feet), it just opens so many doors. I can push forward, I can go after my uncle. I can beat him and after that, my father.”
While Draven Crist’s dad stopped competing long ago, he’ll still take any opportunity he can to remind his son who is at the top of the family record book.
“His dad was like, ‘Well, you’re still number three in the family,’” Hudson said. “Sometimes that old lion doesn’t want to let go. He still think he’s got a little more fight left in him.”
For now, however, Hudson and head coach Harlis Meaders both hope the younger Crist can take a deep breath and realize something they have known all along.
“We’ve always known it’s been there,” Meaders said. “And he’s know that it’s been there. It’s just wrestling with it, fighting back and forth to sort of get it on paper. Now that he’s got that bar behind him, he can start looking to higher heights.”