Akeem Stewart received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Trinidad and Tobago after winning the country’s first Paralympic gold in 32 years, in Rio last month.
The 24-year-old track and field athlete was warmly greeted by his compatriots at a welcome ceremony, then headlined a motorcade and also attended a surprise party to celebrate his historical achievement.
“It was awesome,” said Stewart, who sealed gold in the men’s javelin throw F42/43/44 and silver in the discus throw F43/44 at Rio 2016.
The last Trinidadian to have topped the podium at a Paralympic Games was female track and field athlete Rachael Marshall, who claimed two golds and one bronze at New York 1984.
Stewart was confident he could put an end to his country’s winning drought, but he still left Rio with a bittersweet taste.
“Yes, I was expecting to have a great performance. But I was also hoping to win the discus, which I unfortunately did not,” he said.
“I am still satisfied with my overall performance.”
Stewart set a new world record of 57.32m on his way to gold in the javelin, which “meant a lot to me.
“I arrived in Rio with a personal best of 53.36m because, at that time, I was just doing a standing throw. But my coach Wade Franklyn told me to make at least three steps to throw further and it turned out well.
“I do not have good javelins back home so Rio was my first event in a year throwing the javelin.”
The Trinidadian could not break his own world record (63.03m) in the discus as he ‘only’ threw 61.72m, far from his personal best but still a Paralympic record for the F43 class.
“I was a bit disappointed that I did not better my own world record but, God is good, I will be back much stronger for next season,” he said.
“There are many reasons why I think I did not win gold, but I will give two. First I did not have the right throwing shoes and, secondly, my elbow was giving me some pain from the javelin.”
Stewart’s next big competition will be the 2017 World Championships in London, Great Britain, from 14-23 July, where he is hoping to outdo his performance from Doha 2015, when he won bronze in the discus throw F44.
“I do not think I have much to improve ahead of the next events, but believe that if I get the chance to compete more, everything will be fine,” he said.
“And I want to break my world records and definitely see myself doing so next season.”
With Rio 2016 still fresh in his mind, Stewart already anticipates what competing at a second Paralympic Games would be like.
“I dream of participating in Tokyo 2020 and think it will be a really great Paralympic Games,” he said.