For 20 years, Greg Stewart has strived to reach sports’ grandest stage.
The 7-foot-2, 350-pound shot putter from Kamloops could finally breathe easy on Friday, July 30, when the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Athletics Canada revealed its team for the postponed 2020 Paralympic Summer Games, which will run from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5 in Tokyo.
“It’s definitely been a big sigh of a relief,” said Stewart, who picked up the sport and began training in 2017 with coach Dylan Armstrong, an Olympic bronze medallist shot putter.
“It’s been 20 years in the making. A lot of hard work has gone into this, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, the old cliché.”
Stewart’s 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.
“I have nothing against team sports, but if the Olympics is something I wanted, I couldn’t count on other people to do it,” Stewart said. “It’s me that had to do it.”
Stewart, who was born with nothing below his left elbow, won silver in the men’s F46 division at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, throwing 16.30 metres to establish a Canadian record and dismantle his own personal best.
Important to keep in mind: the big fella moved the implement 13.08m at his first International Paralympic Committee-sanctioned event in 2017 — his growth over two years was phenomenal.
The Canadian team features 16 athletes, with inclusion based on world rankings position as of July 20, 2021, according to an athletics.ca press release.
Stewart said it is his result at the 2019 world championships that secured his spot on the squad.
“Being named to the Olympic team, that’s a victory on its own,” Stewart said. “Medals are cool, but being part of this team, that’s the greatness.”
Stewart has the third-longest throw in the world this year, 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 threw 16.07m, are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Stewart told KTW his personal best this year is 16.07m, which he threw last month in Kamloops. He was not signed up for the meet, so the number was not officially recognized, he said.
“I used it as a training session,” Stewart said. “To get over 16 before I leave for Tokyo is a really important thing to see. I was extremely pumped.”
An ailing back has plagued Stewart for about 16 months, but he is feeling strong and handling heavy training programs well, he said.
“Being named to the team, you just have that little bit of extra motivation added to each training session,” Stewart said.
Stewart will leave for Japan on Aug. 14 following a two-week training camp in Nanaimo.
Team Canada will convene in Gifu on Aug. 16 and train at Nagaragawa Athletic Stadium until Aug. 23, when it departs for the Olympic Village.
Stewart said it took a village to get him to the Games and he wants to feel connected with hometown support during the competition — literally.
He is asking the public to email — firstname.lastname@example.org — jokes, stories or words of encouragement that he will read between throws during his event.
“In 2019 at worlds, I had a book with me and asked Team Canada athletes and staff to write jokes and stories,” Stewart said. “You throw and you’ve got to wait 20 minutes to throw again. I found it to be really helpful to keep me in the moment.”
The men’s F46 shot put event is slated to begin at 6:33 p.m. (Kamloops time) on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
“I feel blessed,” Stewart said. “It’s finally here.”