Greg Stewart became the No. 1-ranked athlete in the world in his discipline and a Canadian champion in his rookie season.
No spring chicken at 32, the 7-foot-2, 330-pound behemoth from Kamloops made up for lost time in a new sport, shot put, finishing the 2018 campaign with a personal-best throw of 15.80 metres.
That heave landed 18 centimetres shy of the International Paralympic Committee world record in the F46 disability class, a mark set by U.S. athlete Joshua Cinnamo in 2017.
“Throwing well enough to be considered No. 1 is probably a pretty big highlight, but one of the biggest ones is just the ability to stick with it, being that it’s a brand new sport,” Stewart said. “It’s starting to be more and more fun every day. That’s something I’m really happy and grateful for.”Stewart, who is missing his left arm from the elbow down, topped world rankings by recording the longest throw in his class in 2018, the personal-best mark that was set at the Desert Challenge Games in Arizona in June.
The former TRU WolfPack basketball player and CIS defensive player of the year in 2011 followed by winning bronze with a 15.61m throw at the Vancouver Sun/Harry Jerome International Track Classic later that month in Burnaby.
Stewart was competing against able-bodied athletes and finished behind Druv Sobti (17.25m) of Surrey and Jerrett Chong (17.07m) of Port Coquitlam.
Also among highlights in 2018 were gold medals at the Para-Athletics Canadian Championships in July in Ottawa and World Para Athletics Winter Throws Challenge last month in Italy.
Did we mention it was his rookie season?
The World Para Athletics Championships next November are the most-significant event on Stewart’s schedule for 2019. He also plans to compete at the Parapan American Games, which will run from Aug. 23 to Sept. 1 in Peru.
“I’ve been giving ‘er for the past year and a half,” said Stewart, whose three-week break from training will end on Monday. “Everything is just leading up to the Olympics.”
Stewart and coach Dylan Armstrong, who won bronze in shot put at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, have circled the 2020 Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo on the calendar.
Armstrong has watched Stewart better his personal-best mark by nearly three metres since throwing 13.08m at his first IPC-sanctioned event in 2017.
That type of improvement is extraordinary, but so is Stewart’s body type and work ethic.
“I see podium potential in 2020,” Armstrong said. “We’re not going to make the final. We’re going to win.”