By Martin Cleary
An inspiring, positive-thinking and witty runner who discovered success when others his age had become spectators, Dave Stewart was many things to many people.
For Michelle Tessier, he was her best running coach, ever supportive and had that impact on others.
At age 12, future Olympian Bruce Deacon met Stewart for the first time and was motivated to pursue distance running because the first ‘fast’ runner he ever knew always had time for the younger athletes.
Stewart was known for his lunch-hour workouts in Rockcliffe, interval training in the Arboretum and long neighbourhood runs that stretched more than 30 years. Plenty of stories were shared, sprinkled with healthy doses of laughter.
But for the past three years, the Saturday morning outings in the Arboretum were downgraded to jogs and/or walks. The gentleman who once set world and Canadian middle-distance masters records for his determined outdoor and indoor running against some of the best in the business was battling non small cell lung cancer.
Steve Pomeroy will “miss (Stewart) marking the start line on the loop” during a workout. “For Dave, RIP is really Run In Peace.”
On Nov. 1, Stewart, who served with the RCMP and CSIS for more than 38 years, passed away. He was 74.
“He was a student of the sport,” Ottawa Sport Hall of Famer Ken Parker, who coached Stewart on the Ottawa Athletic Club Racing Team, said in a phone interview with High Achievers. “He loved to talk track. He read Track and Field News cover to cover.
“He’d talk about the different athletes and their achievements. He was always happy. I never saw him in a bad mood.”
As Stewart approached and surpassed 40 years old, he realized his return to running had lifted him to a point where he had graduated from being a competent competitive runner to being an international speedster.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when indoor track meets in North America had a popular following, Stewart, who also ran for the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club before switching to the OAC Racing Team, developed into one of the featured runners.
On Feb. 9, 1990, Stewart set two world masters records in one race at the Vitalis Invitational meet at the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey. His time of four minutes, 15.47 seconds, clipped one one-hundredth of a second off the world men’s mile mark held by Kenya’s Mike Boit, the 1972 Olympic men’s 800-metre bronze medallist. Stewart won the race by almost 15 yards.
During that same race, Stewart passed through the 1,500-metre mark in 3:58.6, which erased the world masters record held by Great Britain’s Alan Roper.
“I cut it pretty close, but it’s better to be under than over,” Stewart told National Masters News reporter David Zinman. “I think I could have run close to 4:10 with the proper race. At the end, I felt strong enough to have run another lap or two at the same pace.”
For his double-world-record performance, he received $1,000 (U.S.) for the win and another $1,000 for his world marks from Runner’s World, which sponsored the masters race. During the same meet, Romania’s Doina Melinte lowered the women’s open mile and 1,500-metre world records to 4:17.13 and 4:00.27 respectively and received $100,000 from the meet organizers.
A year earlier, Stewart was invited to the prestigious Millrose Games in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens. Undaunted, he won the 1989 men’s masters mile in a meet record 4:16.48 in front of 16,000 spectators. He missed the world indoor mile record by one second.
“I knew I had a shot at it (world record),” Stewart told the Ottawa Citizen. “But several of us could have taken a big chunk out of it. Now, I feel I could have gone three to four seconds faster.
“After running 2:11 (first 800 metres), I knew I had to run hard. But it took 15 to 20 minutes to find out I set a (meet) record because the timing was off all night.”
Stewart was one of North America’s top masters runners in 1989, setting five Canadian masters records, winning 12 of his 20 races and posting 10 personal-best times. Those credentials were good enough for the organizers of the 1990 Millrose Games to send him an invitation.
His results resume for 1989 also included placing second (24:27) to Bill Rodgers in the eight-kilometre race at the United States masters championships, defeating Frank Shorter over 1,500 metres at the Ottawa Winternational Indoor Games in 4:05.48, beating international standout Wilson Waigwa to win the Fifth Avenue Mile in 4:11.94 and capturing the New York City Games indoor mile in 4:13.5.
Almost 35 years since his international achievements, Stewart still owns six Canadian masters records in the men’s 40-44 division – outdoor mile 4:13, outdoor 3,000 metres 8:24, indoor 1,500 metres 3:58.6, indoor mile 4:15.47, road mile 4:11.94, and road eight kilometres 24:05.
Overall, Stewart broke 14 Canadian masters running records on the track and in road races.
“He was one of the most uninjured runners I ever knew,” Parker added. “He had a perfect balance in what he did.
“He was a student of the sport. He was up to speed with what was happening in the sport. He saw what the other runners did. He loved the camaraderie of the workouts.”
Stewart ran track at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and graduated with a degree in economics. After stepping away from running for a few years for family and job, he returned to running in the late 1970s to maintain his fitness.
One thing led to another and in no time he was posting international wins, records and earning recognition.
“He kept progressing with the Lions back then,” Parker said. “He kept improving, improving and improving. He became a capable runner as a senior athlete for the Lions.”
As a member of the OAC team, he also was able to train indoors on the club’s 125-metre track and continue his training year round.
“He relished it. He enjoyed it,” Parker added.
Ottawa Lions coach Ray Elrick believes Stewart became an accomplished masters runner because “he didn’t slow down at all.”
“He was a special athlete, no doubt,” Elrick told High Achievers. “He had this quality that he didn’t know how to quit. He was good. He accepted all challenges.
“His biggest quality was he knew how to get the most out of his body and to move forward.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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