That is until he experienced the Fight for Air Climb in Springfield February 2011. "Some of my cross-country friends wanted to do this race together, so we did some practice runs in the building. On race day I ended up winning with a time of 2:21," he proudly describes.
Since it was Stewart's first race, he raced in the second half of the group behind the elite and top racers. "When the race was over, one of the elite guys, PJ Glassey, came up to me to see if it was a timing error, and when he realized it was legitimate, he gave me his business card," states Stewart.
More: Vertical Training vs. Horizontal Training
It had a snowball effect on him. "I loved stair climb races and went to St. Louis and won and then Los Angeles for the AON climb and won there. By the end of 2011 I was ranked ninth in the world," says Stewart.
Stewart says he went into the sport blindly. "I would advise someone new to the sport to mix up their training with cycling, CrossFit, lifting, running and plyometrics. It's not like running, you can't just climb stairs constantly or you burn out," Stewart shares.
More: Meet the Elite Women Stair Climbers, Pt.1
This year Stewart completely crushed his own records. He broke his 2011 record at the Springfield event by 14 seconds. "That is the equivalent of cutting two minutes from an 800-meter race. I continued to climb the ultimate, which is climbing continuously for a remaining hour." He climbed the 32 floors 13 times total.
Of his racing he says, "As a runner I found my niche in the middle to long distances. Yet as a stair climber I came into the sport as a sprinter. A sprinter in the stair climbing world likes a building with 30 to 40 floors. In my opinion 30 to 40 floors is a sprint race, 40 to 60 is a middle-distance race and anything above 60 just plain hurts."
To finish 2012, Stewart plans on racing as many master races as possible to get as many points as possible. Even though he and the other elite racers are extremely competitive, they all agree on one thing—friendship is key.
"The biggest thing in this sport is the camaraderie that I feel with this close knit group. On trips, we do everything to help each other out and we always have dinners together the night before a race. It is really unique," says Stewart.
More: Meet the Elite Women Stair Climbers, Pt.2
Sign up for your next race.