Before the toss of a discus or putting a shot this season, Cameron Steward knew he could find Olympic-sized reassurance with a glance at two family members nearby.
The Red Oak senior is continuing the legacy set by his uncle, Michael Carter, and cousin, Michelle Carter, each time he steps into the circle.
He also just so happens to have a "shot" to be the lone Red Oak qualifier for the state track-and-field championships in Austin.
Michelle is a 2003 Red Oak graduate who won the state championship all four years in the shot put and discus. Michelle also set a U.S. track-and-field record with a 20.63-meter put, which earned her a gold medal during the XXXI Olympiad.
In 1984, her father, Michael, finished with a silver medal after a put of 21.09 meters. That same year, he won his first of three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. He is still the only athlete to ever medal in the Olympics in the same year his team won a Super Bowl.
Michelle credits Steward's mindset to continually improve and get stronger as an essential quality to have for any serious athlete.
“It’s funny because I still see him as a little kid even though he’s 18,” Michelle expressed. “But he has grown and has definitely worked hard for his accomplishments. He’s always wanting to improve.”
Steward recalls putting his first shot at five years old. Now, his personal record is 54.4 feet with the shot and 168 feet with discus. Steward, as his harshest critique, said, “But I know I can throw a lot farther.”
Steward uses a quote his mother once gave him for a little motivation before every throw. He stated she told him, “‘never throw less than your best.’"
"So in practice, I always mark my farthest throw, and I always try to beat it. If I don’t beat it, then I haven’t defeated myself,” he added.
Once he is on deck for his field event, Steward will not say a word as he escapes to another realm of hip-hop music and meditation. The toughest aspect of the game is his eagerness.
Red Oak head track coach Johnny Johnson has trained Steward since the seventh grade.
“If I tell him anything it’s to relax and just go out there that you already know what to do. The shot put is not bigger. The field is not narrower. It’s the same field; it’s the same shot put. All that’s different is the competition,” Johnson tells Steward before the big meets.
Steward has had a very consistent year, mostly improving on a weekly basis. He took a break from football after tearing his meniscus in three places the season before, which left him timid in the weight room and the ring. With everything on the line, Steward was not going to chance anything that could potentially make him miss out.
Johnson elaborated on Steward’s work ethic, self-discipline, and self-motivation.
“You have athletes that are hard to coach, and you have athletes that are easy to coach,” Johnson explained. “He is one who is easy to coach. He has that family background which makes my job easier. It’s been easy because he works hard, he’s self-motivated and has a strong family core.”
IN HIS BLOOD
During the off-season, Steward focused on technical work, knowing he wanted to come around faster in the ring and be more explosive with his launch.
In pre-season, his goal was to build his strengths and his explosion tactic so that, once the season came around, it was all about maintaining the skills.
Steward pushes himself in the weight room and does his homework, watching film, comparing himself to other professional and collegiate athletes to perfect his technique.
“I know if I can beat myself then I can beat anyone. If you constantly beat yourself each week, you’re setting yourself up on the right path,” Steward relayed.
Michelle’s advice to her little cousin goes hand-in-hand with his technique for preparing.
“My advice that I tell him is all of the work is done before you get there,” Michelle ensured. “So you don’t have to think about what you have to do. You know what you have to do because you practiced it. I want him to relax and go out there and compete.”
She added, “The mindset is to not second guess yourself. The biggest competition is really yourself because you can take yourself out of the game, or stay in the game. Mentally you want to stay in the game to execute what you practice.”
Steward has not always had the strong mentality and confidence knowing his Olympic bloodline standard. When he started to get serious about the sport he held himself to that standard right off the bat.
In the beginning, this “Olympic standard” would get to his head, mentally defeating him. As his family encouraged him, Steward relaxed and focused on one throw at a time. Through the inspiration from his uncle and cousin, Steward is where he is today because of them.
THE ROAD TO AUSTIN
When sizing up the 5A Region II track-and-field championships, Steward affirmed he is prepared for the size of the field and the advanced competition. Last summer Steward competed in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics and Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics.
“He has signed himself up for big meets, I have signed him up for big meets,” Johnson explained. “As far as the stage, that stage will crush you if you are not mentally prepared. The athletes that I think can handle it based on performance; I try to sign them up for bigger meets in preparation for this moment.”
To qualify for the UIL 5A state championship would mean the world Steward and would reassure himself of the time and sweat dedicated for this moment.
“Qualifying for state means all the hard work is paying off everything done over the school year is paying off. And don’t settle now, go for the big money, the championship, the title,” Steward
Steward has not pinpointed the college he wants to play and study at. He has a list of potential colleges in and outside of Texas that have peaked his interest. He plans on attending a smaller school with a close-knit community. He strives for stress-free communication with teachers and wants his teammates and coach to push each other and hold each other accountable on and off the field.
The advice Steward has for aspiring athletes is to “Keep your head up even if you’re not throwing far at the moment. That throw is coming. Keep pushing. Keep grinding. And study film.”
Michelle reflected on the generations of her family who represented the Hawks. With herself placing first in the state all four years, Steward’s older brother Kevin earned first in state back in 2016, and now Steward has the same chance.
“It’s exciting because you definitely get to see the next generation come through,” Michelle said. “Because it’s been a long time, like 15 plus years since I’ve been out of high school and to see that we still have family members that are able to do what we did and make a way for themselves is something to see.”
Even though Steward walks the stage in June, he has prolonged the family legacy. His coach expressed his proudness, and the impact Steward has made on the track and field program.
“You hate to see them graduate, but that’s a part of coaching. You don’t get to sign contracts to keep them here longer,” Johnson elaborated. “So you hope that your younger throwers have paid attention and have learned something because the best teacher to a certain degree are your teammates.”
Steward not only competed in the regional meet over the weekend at the University of Texas at Arlington — he dominated.
Steward finished second in the discus (163 feet) and moved from third to first on his put of the shot Saturday afternoon. He recorded a 55-foot-3-inch put to snag the gold medal.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450