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By Will Jennings
Family man Elliot Stewart admits swapping the Nippon Budokan for Bilston has left him ‘exhausted’.
But the Midlands judoka is still revelling in his hard-earned Paralympic silver after defying the Tokyo odds to battle on to the podium.
Stewart, 33, overcame a nightmare draw this summer to beat world champion Oleksandr Nazarenko and scoop a maiden Games medal.
He was unable to topple Iranian Vahid Nouri in his 90kg final but says the sheer sight of silver is filling his family with pride.
Stewart has now returned home to wife Claire and children Shyla Blue, 10, Olive Star, nine, and Caspa, five, but admits adjusting to the sudden change of lifestyle was a shock to the system.
The dad-of-three, who won his medal at the storied home of judo in Japan, said: “It’s been a bit of a surreal experience – but it’s been good seeing my family and the kids.
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“It’s been tough. It’s been exhausting and tiring – emotionally and mentally. But it’s been good to have a relax and it’s the first time I’ve been able to do so for a while – my body’s had a well-deserved rest.
“They were happy I was back as it’s the longest I’ve ever been away from them. That was one of the highlights of being back – seeing the kids.
“It was tough on both sides – but I knew I had a job to do and I knew I was there for a reason. The kids are too young to really understand that sort of thing – win, lose or draw they just wanted me to fight and get back home.
“For me, I told them it was a dream and it was a big competition in my life but no matter what happens, if I won, drew or lost, it doesn’t matter and when I get back home, I’m still their dad.”
Stewart beat Rio 2016 bronze medallist Shukhrat Boboev in the quarter-finals to tee up a last four bout against Nazarenko – who soared to global glory in 2018.
And he left the Ukranian flat on the canvas to tee up a shot at nirvana against Nouri, who captured Asian Para Games gold in Jakarta three years ago.
Stewart, who suffers from keratoconus – a condition that causes the cornea to weaken – admits the final proved a step too far but won’t ever forget climbing the podium at the historic martial arts venue.
I really had to dig deep – it’s nice to know that I deserved that medal and deserved that position on the podium, because it was bit of a grind,” added Stewart, who is able to train full-time, access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to vital National Lottery funding – which helped British athletes win an incredible 189 medals in Tokyo.
“Sometimes it sinks in, sometimes it doesn’t. But I have a nice silver medal – it still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
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Stewart’s father, Dennis, was a judo medallist for Team GB at the 1988 Olympics as he banked a bold bronze in the half-heavyweight category in Seoul.
He’s gone on to have an indelible impact on his son as the para-judo ace has racked up World Championship, World Games and European Championship medals since 2018.
Stewart spoke to his dad every day in Tokyo and says he’s acutely aware of his impact after winning one of 124 medals for ParalympicsGB.
“I definitely couldn’t have done what I did without his influence,” said Stewart, whose silver medal was one of over 1000 won by Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997.
“I spoke to him every day – after I beat the No.1 seed, he talked to me and tried to ground me straight away, and said I still had fights to go.
“My whole judo career was leading up to that one fight day – and I was able to win a medal, which is just great.”
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