Stewart keen to live up to family legacy as European Championships set to kick off
Before Elliot Stewart was old enough to know what a hip-throw was his dad Dennis was busy tossing around the world’s best on his way to an Olympic bronze medal in judo at Seoul 1988.
Stewart was just six-months old at the time but, in many ways, his future was already mapped out.
When Dennis Stewart returned from South Korea he opened a judo club and Elliot grew up with the Olympic Games at the forefront of his mind.
“It was hectic for my Dad. I was born in February and then he had the Games in August but he managed it,” said Stewart.
“I’ve had judo around me for my whole life and, for as long as I can remember, I would say I wanted to go to the Olympics without really knowing how big it was.
“I knew dad had won an Olympic medal but I didn’t know how big of a deal it was. It was only when I started competition and learned about the Olympics that I realised how big of a feat it was.”
For some the pressure of living up to the high standards that had come before would have been too much but for Stewart and his brother Max, there was never a sense of being overshadowed by their father’s accomplishments.
“There’s internal pressure to live up to that in terms of family competition but there’s no real pressure it’s just something to aim for that me and my brother always shoot for,” he added.
“But it’s never a case of trying to beat what dad did it’s just a case of always training hard and working hard.
“Having my dad there set that goal in my mind, I was born into it so it’s always been there. It gives me that drive, the kick and the push to train hard every time I step on that mat.”
Stewart’s judo journey has already afforded him the opportunity to see the world having moved to Hong Kong at 20.
But the lure of the Olympics brought him back to the UK and full-time training until his eyesight began to deteriorate less than two years ago.
That deterioration became rapid and soon he was unable to drive and was diagnosed with Keratoconus – a thinning of the cornea causing a cone-shaped bulge.
“When I came back from Hong Kong I settled down and started teaching judo in schools. Two years ago, my vision was fine, I had no issues whatsoever,” Stewart explained.
“I had to wear glasses for the first time 18 months ago and then every two months I had to change the prescription in my glasses and it was getting worse.
“It was noticeably different and then in January this year they told me that my vision was that bad that I couldn’t drive which was a big upset for me because it meant I couldn’t work anymore.
“It was a big blow to me and my family. I had just started my third year of Uni as well and it affected all of that because I couldn’t read anymore.
“From the January to the March the condition progressed quite rapidly and I lost quite a lot of vision in those months. It affected everything.”
While Stewart’s livelihood had gone judo remained and, with the support of British Judo, he was given a lifeline.
“One of the coaches at British Judo got wind of it and told me that I could do V.I Judo. So the optician signed the letter and I was classified as B3 so I was able to fight and I started full time training again.
“It was a silver lining. It was something that I could hold on to. It was something that I have always done and my life revolved around it.
“I had everything taken away from me and to have judo still there was the only thing going for me along with family.”
With the IBSA European Championships kicking off this weekend in Walsall, Stewart says he is still getting to grips with V.I judo but admits thoughts of Tokyo 2020 have been creeping into his mind.
“When I started training in April I was just finding my feet and getting back on the mat. Then they told me about the Europeans so I’ve been focussed on that.
“But as the weeks have gone by the Paralympics have been on my mind. Tokyo would be 32 years after my Dad won a medal so it would be special to get there and have my family come out to support me.
“They took it quite hard but they were there for me and there was a lot to do to get me through it but they were there every step of the way.
“My brother will be in the running for the Olympic Games so if both of us went it would be really special for my family.”
And what about keeping the Stewart family legacy going?
“My kids are six, five and one so the two older girls both do judo now and they love it so watch out, maybe there’s another generation coming!”