Disabled sports star giving back to the age that gave him opportunity

Leaning to get underneath the seven-foot entrance of Master’s Academy gymnasium is how Greg Stewart approaches every doorway.

At 7’2″, Stewart is anything but shy and always commands attention when stepping into a room, with his broad physique and confident personality instantly starting conversation.

However, what you may not notice right away about the 26-year-old is that he only has his right arm.

Produced by Danielle Harder and Courtney Taylor

At birth, Stewart was born with a condition called below elbow congenital amputation. He had nothing below the elbow of his left his arm and a hole in his heart that eventually grew over.

“I’m on the right track baby I was born this way…Lady Gaga,” said Stewart jokingly, because the common misconception is that his arm’s condition was caused by an accident.

For many individuals, this would stop them from competing in sports, or even from completing daily tasks.

But for Stewart, it is a simple response to the most frequently asked question:

How does it feel to have one arm?

“I simply suggest, how does it feel to have two?” Stewart said.

The early years

Stewart was born in Victoria, B.C., as the second of three boys, to parents Leanne and Mike. Stewart’s father, a RCMP officer, forced the family to move around all over the province.

Greg Stewart was born with a condition called below elbow congenital amputation, leaving nothing below his left elbow. This didn’t stop him from being competitive in sports and giving back to others.

Photo courtesy of Greg Stewart

Growing up though, Stewart was always competing in sports. Whether it was volleyball, basketball, soccer or lacrosse, he was always outside burning energy with his brothers, both of whom Stewart towers over.

At 15 years old, Stewart was recruited to join the Canadian Men’s National Standing Disabled Volleyball team as a left-arm amputee. Having been so young, Stewart said it was a huge learning step as an athlete.

However, after three years on the squad, Stewart decided to switch to his other love of basketball for his post-secondary experience.

Playing for Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., Stewart posted up and rebounded, and was later recognized as the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Defensive Player of the Year and Canada West Defensive Player of the Year.

“I played basketball because of my height. You can’t teach height, and at the time I was more comfortable on the basketball court,” Stewart said.

Throughout school and post-secondary basketball, Stewart spent a total of 12 years with the National Volleyball squad. He won three world championships, began to compete on the National Sitting Volleyball team, and completed five years at TRU, finishing with a bachelor’s degree in human resources.

Having several versions of prosthetic arms and hands gives Stewart the ability to adjust according to sport and circumstance. Despite his collection of artificial limbs, Stewart prefers to not use a prosthetic for day-to-day activities.

Where he is now

Now settled in Calgary, Stewart has temporarily retired as an athlete to give back as a coach.

After years of playing competitive basketball and volleyball, Stewart has begun to make the transition to the coaching side of volleyball.

Photo courtesy of Greg Stewart

“I hope I can just help people and maybe impact people’s lives,” Stewart said. He now coaches the women’s U18 Calgary Impact Volleyball Club. The squad competes within the Alberta Volleyball Association.

“Being a disabled athlete is a big thing, and you see a lot of disabled people making an impact in some other way. This is the way I want to do it,” Stewart said.

Stewart has volleyball coaching experience through the annual Jasper Volleyball Camp. He has also coached basketball, but feels as though volleyball is the sport for him to continue with.

“I have a lot of experience. Its amazing to teach people, show people, what hard work is,” said Stewart.

Stewart’s hope with this girl’s squad is not only to bring strong skills and abilities, but also to have fun and create an atmosphere that inspires learning rather than defeat.

“I want to show them how to have fun, — that’s why we do it in the first place,” he said.

My coach the friendly giant

Mikael Bartholdy, a teammate of Stewart’s on the national team, said that his long-time friend and colleague is one of the most stand-up people you could meet.

“He’s just a big guy inside and outside,” Bartholdy said.

“He’s the first to recognize change in himself, and to go that much harder.”

Together Stewart and Bartholdy co-coach the Impact squad. This is their first season as colleagues.

“He’s blossomed as a coach. He wants the most for his players and tries to get the most potential out of them,” said Bartholdy.

“He really pushes us,” said Shelby Brown, a 17-year-old setter on the squad.

“I tend to give up easily, but Greg is right there telling me, ‘you have to keep going, you have to keep going.’”

The girls on the team recognize the success that both Stewart and Bartholdy bring to the team, and are thankful for Stewart’s positive and supportive attitude.

Sports have been a huge impact on Stewart’s life — understanding that hard work and dedication can bring success. His biggest challenge has been the mental fight, of what he can and wants to achieve.

“I have learned the same way everyone else has,” Stewart said.

“I have just had to go about it a different way.”

dharder@cjournal.ca