Greg Stewart: Finding Shot Put & Pursuing Olympic Dreams
BC Athletics has so many talented athletes that it can be difficult to spotlight each and every one. This month I got to chat with Canadian Shot Putter Greg Stewart about his start in track & field, being a para-athlete, and his pursuit of the Olympic Dream. Greg's story is one that demonstrates what’s possible when you take a holistic approach to excellence.
So Greg, how did you get involved in track & field?
It’s kind of a strange story. I was at a Christmas party in November 2016 and met a bunch of para-athletes including Rick Reelie (5x Paralympic Champion and Coach). We started chatting and Rick says, he thinks I’d be a great thrower. I thought, “Hey, why not”, and passed my number on.
In January I was invited to a Next Gen training camp in Montreal to identify para athletes. Shot put went well, and I have been doing it ever since. Initially I was going out to Calgary to train with Kim Cousins (Para Next Gen Team Coach). That first year my personal best of 13.52m ranked me #6 in the World as a F46. I started working with Dylan in September 2017 and by the end of my second year I was #1 in the World with 15.82m.
Wait, let’s take a step back. What were you doing before that Christmas party?
Nothing. I was playing a little bit in a men’s basketball league. I had played 5 years of university basketball at Thompson River University where I was twice the Canada West Defensive Player of the Year and in my last year I was CIS Defensive Player of the Year. I was also on the National Disabled Volleyball Team for 15 years, with some of my volleyball career overlapping with my playing basketball. At a certain point though I was in an unhealthy relationship which led to me stopping sports period. So when I met Rick I wasn’t involved with the sport world at all.
How did you finding the transition back to sport, especially an individual one?
It was a huge change! The biggest transition was the amount of independence compared to basketball where everything is organized for you. When I think of the independence level, I don’t know why I didn’t do this before. Well, I do, but it ties in to the emotional side.
Being disabled is amazing and I’m very grateful for my disability. However, it wasn’t until probably 6 years ago that I began to identify as a disabled person. When you’re born disabled you don’t quite fit in because you don’t look like everybody else, but you’re always wanting to fit in and be part of something. I was 6’8” when I was 14 so people start saying “You should play basketball and volleyball”. I followed what people were telling me, thinking I was going to fit in, but I didn’t have the emotional connection to it. So I hated it the whole time which is crazy because I played for 15 years and I was a very good at both of them. But you would never see me at the gym trying to get my game better between practices because I didn’t want to be there in the first place. I was really fighting myself. I remember thinking, “I could just say no and find another passion”. But who does that?
So what allowed you to make the mental shift to pursue things you love?
About 7 years ago I did a 6 month intensive personal empowerment training through Breath Integration in Kamloops. It really taught me that regardless of our physicality, we are all so similar but we create all these differences and judgements. Practicing mindfulness and learning to understand it gave me more of an understanding of why I throw a shot put. I throw because I’m good at it and I like what I’m doing. I’m not doing it because other people are telling me to do it. I’m not getting up at 5AM to go train because I have to be there; I don’t have to be there.
It’s great that you were able to make that shift! And it ties into my next question which is, what is your motivation as an athlete?
I’ll say this really bluntly: I could care less, if I win a medal at the Olympics. I do care, because I’m putting in a lot of effort and sacrificing a lot in terms of my life and relationships. So it would mean something to me to get a medal but that’s not why I’m trying to get there.
The Olympics are the ultimate Games and I’ve always wanted that experience. I spent 15 years on our National Disabled Volleyball team and never made it to the Olympics. During my time on the team we won 3 World Championships in a row and 1 World Cup. After the Sydney Games in 2000, standing volleyball was removed for the Paralympics but they kept seated volleyball, so I did that for another 6 years. Brazil and the US are powerhouses in North America for seated volleyball so we never made it. But I’ve always wanted to go and be part of the Games. Even with COVID, even without spectators, they could still be a significant and impactful Games, just to have the world come together for an event during a crazy time like this.
However, something I’ve learned through practicing mindfulness is that it doesn’t matter how much work I’m putting in any one day. All that matters is that at the end of the day I feel I’m good enough and being able to be grateful, and letting go of expectations.
Do you ever have times were you struggle to maintain that positivity and objectivity?
Of course! I’m a human being. Just recently I re-tweaked my back and thought, “I think I’m going to call it quits.” I mean, I’m 34 years old; what is the long term impact to my body? On the other hand, the Olympics is only a few months away and this is a dream I’ve wanted forever. It’s important to remember to get back into the moment. We all have our highs and lows, it’s just important to recognize it and balance it out.
Another thing to remember is when you really love what you’re doing, you’re not sacrificing anything. A lot of athletes struggle with defining their personal identity after sport. When I stopped playing university basketball I went down that hole of “who am I” and went through this process of self-discovery through life and jobs. But now I know who I am. I’m an elite athlete and a friend, brother, son. I’m a fun-loving, outgoing person, who is crazy all the time. I love people, like to hang out, and bring smiles to people. I’m all about people but even more so these days I’m for myself. Shot put is not my life.
Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to share?
Do what you want, love what you do, and have fun. And stay safe!
Thank you Greg!
Author: Sabrina Nettey - Introductory Programs Coordinator - Run Jump Throw Wheel & Junior Development