AKEEM STEWART, the 24-year-old double Parapan American Games gold medallist, has intensified his training as he prepares to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from September 7-18.
In an interview with Newsday on Tuesday at Shaw Park, Scarborough, Stewart explained that his training has become more intense now that the start of the Paralympics is drawing closer.
“I have been training seven days a week,” said Stewart. “My training includes throwing (javelin) five days a week for one-and-a-half hours, gym workout three days a week for three-and-a-half hours and swimming on weekends.” Stewart started throwing at the age of 14 when he was introduced to the sport by his father Wayne and uncle. He admitted that it was difficult in the beginning because “the instruments were heavy” but kept on throwing.
“I never thought that I would’ve been a track and field athlete,” he said. “I wanted to be a power-lifter.” Before javelin, shot put and discus, Stewart wanted to become a power-lifter but later decided to get into track and field when he realised that he was most talented in that area.
“After making my first national team I was motivated to make more national teams,” he said.
Stewart made his first national team within two years of being introduced to the sport. The Paralympic athlete competes in both able-bodied and Para Games.
But he admitted, “I have no rest, I basically have no social life.” Stewart spends almost all of his time training because his competitions are year-round. He explained that he only finds time for himself during the months of November and December.
“After that, it’s back to training,” he admitted.
The biggest challenge for the two-time Parapan American Games gold medallist is securing funding. Stewart explains that it is hard to get funding from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
“When you ask them for equipment they would tell you to send in a quotation, when you send in quotation they would say they lost it,” he stressed. “I sent in eight quotations last year and I just get tired and stop.” Stewart also finds it difficult to train at Shaw Park and getting into the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, where the facilities are better, is somewhat difficult since he is met with “red tapes” whenever he tries to gain training access at the Stadium.
“I spoke to the relevant authorities since January to use the Dwight Yorke Stadium but, to date, I am unable to use the Stadium and the Paralympics is just around the corner.” He added that, on some occasions where he would be allowed to use the Stadium for training, his training partners might not be allowed to do. On many occasions they are told that “only elite athletes” are allowed to use the Stadium for training.
Stewart also related how difficult it is when training equipment is not available. “It’s hard to train with what I have now and when you’re in the country where you’re competing in, you need good training equipment because it is not given to you there.” Stewart assists his father with regards to coaching at the club Tobago Falcons. “Assisting my dad is a great learning experience, really tough, but good learning experience,” he said.
In 2011 Stewart got silver and bronze medal when he represented Trinidad and Tobago in the Carifta Games in Jamaica. Three years later, he took bronze in the North America, Central America and Caribbean Association (NACAC) Under-23 Championships in Canada.
And, in 2015, Stewart copped double gold medals, as well as a pair of world records, in javelin and discus at the Parapan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
He went on to break the world record in the javelin at Data, Qatar, where he also got a bronze medal.
And, on June 4, he won the javelin gold at in the Jamaica All-Comers Meet where he once again broke a world record and won in the discus throw.
He explained that his biggest supporters are his manager, assistant manager and his father. “My father was there for me since day one he is one of my biggest supporters,” said Stewart. He pointed out, “I think the authorities should invest more time in sports because athletes are doing well in track and field in Tobago.” Stewart admitted that many track and field athletes are considering dropping out of the sport because of the many challenges they face, but many are hoping that the system will improve so that they can get the necessary support needed to train and compete at the highest level.
Stewart will travel to Rio de Janeiro where he will once again represent Trinidad and Tobago in hopes of adding a few more medals to his impressive collection.
He will also competing in the IPC World Championships in London, England next year.
“Hopefully, I can retire at age 35,” he noted. He explained that he wants to give back more of his time to assist young persons who want to get into the sport. “Hopefully, this can assist in stopping young persons from getting into criminal activities.” Stewart went on to state, “if you find a sport you love, pursue it 100 percent, always find yourself with positive friends and always have God.”