Jamaica

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More than 1,500 miles and the Gulf of Mexico separate senior hurdler Keiron Stewart’s hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, from Mike A. Myers Stadium, where he now plies his trade. But seeing how comfortably he glides over the track and leaps effortlessly over hurdles, you wouldn’t know it. 

The native Jamaican might be far away from home, but has settled in and become an integral part of the men’s track and field team over the last four years.

Far from his hometown, Stewart still keeps connections with his original home. He wears a necklace given to him by his mother and on it is a ring that was given to him by a close friend. Both are reminders of home that he keeps with him as he speeds around the track.

Among his heroes is Maurice Wignall, the outstanding hurdler who set the standard for all other Jamaican jumpers in Athens in 2004. Andre Wellington and Leford Green, members of the Jamaican Olympic team in 2008 and 2012, respectively, are like big brothers to him, pushing him to succeed on the track. 

“I really admire them,” Stewart said. “They push me. Just seeing them run at my high school and go through the rungs and show poise and experience every time they touch the track. They’re
my inspiration.”

Stewart barely missed out on a trip to the Olympics in 2012 himself, coming in .03 seconds short of a third-place finish at the Jamaican Trials, a finish that would have guaranteed him a seat on the plane to London, but he hasn’t let it bother him much.

“It’s life. There are always going to be setbacks,” Stewart explained. “We just have to learn from them. We have to move on and learn not to make the same mistake twice.”

Now in his senior season, Stewart has had time to learn from his mistakes and now guides and supports the younger Texas athletes. He and the rest of the seniors have been instrumental in leading the way for the Longhorns in 2013 and have helped the youth understand the expectations that come with a burnt orange uniform.

Stewart and the rest of the Longhorns track and field team will head to Ames, Iowa, to compete in the 2013 Big 12 Indoor Championships on Saturday and Sunday. The field will be tough, as the Big 12 is one of the fiercest leagues in track competition, but Stewart feels confident his best performances are yet to come.

“You have to go out with a bang. You can’t leave no t’s uncrossed and no i’s undotted,” Stewart said. “This is our main goal right now — fine tuning everything and getting sharper for the competition.”

Stewart will compete in the 60-meter hurdles Friday at 4 p.m., and is hoping to lead Texas to a win after a three-year drought at the Big 12 meet. He previously won the 60-meter hurdles in 2011, setting the Texas record with a time of 7.66 seconds, and is in a good position to do it again after matching the time at the Tyson Invitational in Arkansas.

“Keiron has been there. He’s done it before,” head coach Bubba Thornton said. “He’s been four years All-American and has the potential to do more.”

He already has his name firmly etched in the UT record books, holding the top marks in the 60- and 100-meter hurdles, but it doesn’t look like he wants to let go of them for a long time. 

“I’m in a better position and better fitness level,” Stewart said. “I’m looking forward to breaking the record again.”

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Stewart hurdling the competition". 

Men's Track and Field

Junior hurdler Keiron Stewart aims to lead the Longhorns to a Big 12 Championship this weekend.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Meet days are filled with strict routines and preparations during the final moments leading up to the events. Junior hurdler Keiron Stewart’s to-do list is a few items shorter than most competitors.

“I never get a pre-meet massage during warm-ups like everyone else on the team,” Stewart said. “And I don’t have to worry about putting on socks before I lace up my spikes.”

Most athletes wouldn’t even consider the thought of competing in their first event without a massage or forgetting to put on their socks. But for Stewart, these are two rituals he doesn’t follow.

During his junior year of high school at Kingston College in Kingston, Jamaica, Stewart allowed one of the trainers to give him a rub down to loosen up his muscles before the races began. The Jamaica native was a little hesitant to suddenly alter his pre-meet routine, but for reasons he still isn’t sure of — he gave in and got a massage.

“The first time I let a trainer give me a rub down during warm ups was my last”, he said with a smirk. “I lost my race that day so needless to say, I will never do that again.”

And he won’t likely forget to take off his socks before putting on his racing spikes. This superstitious act is one he inherited from one of his fellow teammates in high school.

As a new member to the track team, the logistics and insider tricks of the sport were unfamiliar to Stewart at that time.

“I’ll never forget the day one of my buddies was talking to me at practice,” Stewart said. “He simply pulled me aside and suggested that I not wear any socks at the next meet, assuring me that I would be able to run a lot faster.”

The upcoming meet was the annual Gibson Relays held at National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. Once again a sense of hesitancy crept up, but Stewart pushed it aside and decided to give it a try. He even convinced the members of his 4x400 relay team to jump on the bandwagon and run sockless.

“That day, we ran like we never had before”, Stewart said. “We broke the previous Gibson relay record, and set a new one when we crossed the finish line at 3:09.22.”

It was a dream come true for the emerging track star, and looking back, it seems all a result of one single spontaneous decision he made as a 14-year-old freshman.

To the untrained eye, Stewart looks as if he’s been a track star for most of his life — with his natural speed and graceful hurdling technique. But actually, his track career began almost by accident.

“I was about 14 years old when I decided to represent my class in a benefit my school was having,” Stewart said. “It was an open track meet and for some reason, I felt as if I should run in it. The race was very different from the ones here in the U.S. The track was all grass; the lanes were marked with something that looked like black grease, and one lap around was equal to only 300 meters.”

He clocked in a winning time at around 47 seconds, immediately turning the heads of every track coach present.

After taking notice, the coaches made a beeline to Stewart and asked him to join the team. Undoubtedly, his acceptance of the offer was life-changing from that moment on. But the birth of a new talent meant letting go of another.

His first sport was cricket, and Stewart was one of the best batters of his age. At cricket, he was a natural, but track took an unfamiliar level of effort and hard work. After trying to balance the two and compete in both, Stewart let go of cricket and decided to set his focus on becoming a stronger runner.

“I couldn’t take the hits anymore”, Stewart said. “I was constantly getting hurt by the throws, and my teammates had gotten a lot bigger than before.”

And it turns out his 5-foot-11-inch agile frame was perfect for leaping over hurdles. Stewart grew tired of running sprints apart from all his friends during practice, so he volunteered to give hurdling a try. Eventually, he worked out the kinks and now holds the Jamaican national junior record in the 110-meter hurdles.

But the aggressive yet humble competitor is still awestruck when he thinks of the journey that led him to Texas. After a strong season as a freshman, Stewart won the Big 12 Indoor Championship title in the 60-meter hurdles, setting a school record with a time of 7.66 seconds. But it’s his performance at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships that remains most vivid in his mind.

“I will never forget how I felt hitting the hurdle,” Stewart said.

“I was so confident and ready to win, ready to cross that finish line. But something happened and I hit it hard. Everyone else gained an edge, and I ended up in fifth.”

Coming off a personal best and UT record time in the 110-meter hurdles, Stewart surged ahead into first place before colliding with the eighth hurdle. In a fraction of a second, his season goal fell apart. Stewart didn’t walk away with a gold, but he didn’t allow the twinge from the loss to get into his head.

“I was upset after the race, but only for a split second,” Stewart said. “Then the next thought I had was getting back to practice and training hard to achieve a new goal. It made no sense for me to drag that memory around with me when there was nothing I could do to change the outcome.”

For Stewart, it’s all about executing the smallest technical mechanics properly, trying his hardest and finishing the race.

“There is no room for error in this race, or in this sport,” Stewart said. “Even the favorites fall sometimes.”

Next weekend, the all-American will compete in the Big 12 Indoor Championships, eyeing a top finish in the 60-meter hurdles.

And you can guarantee his speedy, sockless feet will carry him leaps and bounds above his competitors.

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Big 12 Track and Field