In the latest of our #TokyoThursdays series documenting Scottish Olympians and Paralympians as they prepare for the games in Japan, we sat down with Lewis Stewart. In this feature he shared with Scottish Cycling his journey multi-tasking different sports, the coaches and development system that helped him progress and how he became a Paralympic pilot for the sprint events.
From the village of Killearn in Stirlingshire, the 22-year-old began by discussing his partnership with James Ball, whom the Scot will be piloting in the sprint events in the Izu Velodrome:
“From the off, myself and James Ball got on really well - we have a lot of similarities and I think James might not have had that with a pilot before. To be honest, it feels like he’s one of my best friends.”
Stewart’s shift from being a part of the Great Britain Cycle Team as a member of the sprint squad to the Paralympic pilot has been fairly seamless, but in typical fashion Lewis has been very humble about it.
“I am really thankful for the opportunity, as I wouldn’t have gone to Tokyo otherwise”, he noted as he provided the context to his selection.
“I was riding for the Great Britain Under 23 team towards the end of 2019 and James’ pilot was unfortunately in a car crash and wasn’t available for the World Champs. They asked me, as they needed someone urgently, if I’d fancy doing it. I knew I wasn’t going to the Olympics, so this was sort of my chance to go to Tokyo. I said yes and we finished with gold and silver at the Worlds! From there everything got delayed, but we persevered, we cracked on, and here we are.”
Like many, Lewis was introduced into cycling through his family, as he explained:
“My Dad introduced me into cycling, and his friend was involved in Glasgow Riderz, and I joined when I was about 8.”
Although, he did start the sport very early, Stewart openly admits that cycling wasn’t his favourite sport as a youngster!
“I did everything when I was younger; I did rugby, athletics, football, cycling. I probably enjoyed athletics the most, but I just wasn’t particularly gifted at that, so I had to call it a day. I remember the last running event I did I was doing a track session at Meadowbank before getting a call from my athletics coach to do the 4x400m at athletics stadium just there!”
On the bike, it was a similar story - rather than focusing on his now speciality, track, he was open to all different disciplines of the sport as youngster:
“I rode in a bit of everything, mountain bike, road, track and cyclocross - just getting stuck in with everything really”
Despite his willingness, it was evident quite quickly which disciplines the Killearn man wasn’t best at it, as he joked:
“I am not an overly gifted endurance athlete so don’t have the beans to go for a full hour of cyclocross! I ended up on the track as it was what I was good at it. You notice very quickly on the road if you’re getting burned out after 40 mins. You gravitate towards what you’re good at I suppose. It was clear from quite early on that sprint was my discipline.”
It is quite circumspect for Stewart that many of his friends and training partners over the years will also have been in Tokyo for the Olympic Games, with Paisley’s double medallist Jack Carlin amongst them, as he explained.
“Jack and I have trained together since we were 12. He’s been one of my best friends for years. It’s quite funny, as he came to cycling after me and he wasn’t that great, and he’s now gone to the Olympics and been fantastic!”
Alongside fellow Tokyo stars Jack Carlin, Anna Shackley and Jenny Holl, as well as GBCT’s Luisa Steele, Stewart came through the much-praised WoSCA programme, to which Stewart was to add to the praise given by Carlin (which you can read here).
“Edd Shackley and Neil MacLeod were key figures from that set-up that really helped develop myself, Jack, Luisa and Johnny Mitchell – who are all weirdly track sprinters. With the big exception of Anna (Shackley) of course, who is most definitely not a track sprinter! It was a bit of a golden era where five or six of us had made it through this one regional programme that all went on to the GB team, which is quite rare, especially from Scotland.”
When pressed as to why so many National and International-class riders were produced at the same time through the WoSCA system, Stewart pointed out that the opening of the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome came at the perfect time to act as the springboard for these talented young riders to fulfil their potential.
“All of us came through at the same time, and it was really when the Emirates opened - it’s a bit of a cliché, but I think that’s really shown through us, that if you build a world class facility, you’re going to get world class athletes coming out of the other end. Whereas if the Emirates wasn’t there it might have been a totally different story and none of us might have gone into track – with the nearest one being in Edinburgh, and outside, which means it was not always available.”
Let’s hope that Lewis can replicate the success seen in Tokyo already by fellow Emirates alumni this summer. Scottish Cycling wishes him and James Ball, as well as the rest of the ParalympicsGB squad, the best of luck for the upcoming Games.
Scottish Cycling will keep you up to date with the action of the Scottish riders via our social media channels, with the Paralympics viewable on Channel 4 throughout.