Greg Stewart talks about heightened awareness and mindfulness.
Gratefulness is tip of tongue, anger is no longer jet fuel, gratitude is propellant and medals will not define him.
The Tournament Capital’s 7-foot-2, 350-pound friendly giant seems to be in a zen-like head space, now only days away from accomplishing a goal 20 years in the making, with men’s F46 shot put action at the postponed 2020 Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo slated to begin at 6:33 p.m. (Kamloops time) on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Relief washed over Stewart last month, when he was one of 16 athletes named to the Canadian squad.
“It was gratitude, gratefulness,” he said. “But I still have mixed feeling on a part of it. It’s like, making these Paralympic Games still doesn’t define me, but it does, in a way. It’s something I’ve been training for, something I’ve been wanting to attend for 20 years. At the same time, that’s not what defines me. Greg’s just a Paralympic athlete? That’s all people will know me for? No. I think people know me for a lot of different things.”
Relief subsided a few days after his inclusion to Team Canada and focus switched to preparation.
“I’m either eating, sleeping or training — that’s it,” Stewart said.
Training includes working on mental health.
Stewart hops on Zoom calls with empowerment coach Amanda Somerville, a trusted team member for the past eight years. Mental performance consultant Penny Werthner will also be available to Canada’s Paralympians.
“Personally, I’m healthy, I have loving people in my family, I have a loving relationship ... everything feels good right now and that is a great head space heading into these Paralympics,” Stewart said.
His efforts to reach the Paralympics began in 2001, with stints on the national standing and seated disabled volleyball teams yielding gold medals at world championships and world cups, but never a berth in the Games.
The COVID-19 pandemic put these Games in jeopardy.
Stewart rode the wave.
“One thing I’ve learned through my life is stuff happens,” said Stewart, who was born with nothing below his left elbow. “It’s like, this is a bummer, man. I was really looking forward to it. All of a sudden, Team Canada is not going and it’s like, ‘Oh, shoot.’ I didn’t say shoot, though.
“But I don’t know if I got super low. You’ve got to make do with what you’ve got. I’ve got to take ownership.”
Stewart has the third-longest throw in the world this year in his discipline, a 15.81m heave on June 12 in Burnaby that is recognized in the World Para Athletics Official World Rankings.
Abrahan Jesus Ortega Abello of Venezuela, who threw 16.30m in March, and Kerwin Noemdo of South Africa, who posted 16.07m, are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Stewart told KTW his unofficial personal best this year is 16.07m. He launched his official personal best at the 2019 world championships, a 16.30m Canadian-record throw that was good for silver.
Those numbers make him a medal favourite.
So, how does the big man grapple with expectations and pressure to reach the podium?
“That all-in mentality can be devastating to somebody if they don’t achieve that goal,” Stewart said. “If we don’t meet our expectations, how often do we fall down that wormhole? With the mental health I’m constantly practising and my awareness, I don’t want to go down that.
“At the same time, it would be super cool to get one,” Stewart continued.
“When there are times when it’s like, oh, I don’t feel very good or worthless, I could look over and be like, oh yeah, that happened.
“Ultimately, with this whole journey, I don’t get to take anything with me when I leave. When I’m done on this earth — I’m done on this earth. My medal is not going to define me.”
Stewart said he summoned anger to establish the Canadian record two years ago at worlds in Dubai on a throw that was accompanied by a hair-raising shriek.
The implement’s means of transportation into orbit have changed since then.
“It’s more so jet fuel of gratitude,” Stewart said.
Stewart wants Kamloopsians to join him in Tokyo.
He is asking the public to email — email@example.com — jokes, stories or words of encouragement that he will read between throws during his event.
“Using that for more fuel to go and throw a bomb — that’s what being in the moment is for me,” Stewart said.
“This is an opportunity for not only myself to have an experience in Tokyo, but an opportunity for the community be a part of it, too.”