Stewart thinking big on her way to the Games
July 13, 2008
AN ANKLE injury led Sarah Stewart to reflex sympathetic dystrophy. The muscle-wasting condition led her to a wheelchair. The wheelchair led her to disabled basketball. Basketball led her to Athens and a bittersweet silver medal. An irrepressibly active mind led her to a PhD in philosophy. Her sport and studies led her to the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Academic and Sporting Achievement at Sydney University. A big old jet airliner will lead her to the Beijing Paralympics. Her plate is full.
“I did philosophy of mind as an undergrad thinking about minds in human beings, artificial intelligence and animals, all the similarities and differences, working out what makes up a mind,” Stewart said in the quiet of the main quadrangle of Sydney University on a Friday afternoon.
“You probably think a little bit outside the square, and think pretty quickly on the go when you’re a philosopher. It helps in life, it helps in sport.”
Australia lost the final at Athens to the US. The 32-year-old’s thoughts keep reverting to the night before the decider. She wants to be in the exact same position in Beijing as “there’s nothing like the night before a gold medal match”. She’s bright-eyed and jovial, overflowing with laughter. The words don’t seem to spill fast enough from her mouth.
“We have a running joke in the team that I’m like those telephone numbers you call when you have a question,” she said. ” ‘Sarah, why is the grass green? Sarah, where do polar bears come from?’ They’re the kind of questions I get. I just find everything pretty interesting. Beijing — fascinating … All the different athletes, the different cultures, the different disabilities. People eating with their legs. The whole thing will be awesome.”
Stewart, from Maroubra, teaches philosophy and maths and plays the saxophone in a band.
“When I was 17, I missed a step going down some stairs, injured my right ankle and it set off a dystrophy in my nervous system,” she said.
“While I was struggling with that leg, I fractured a bone in the other leg, and the same thing was set off in that leg. Stupid, hey? I went from crutches into a chair. I can move them a bit but they’re not very useful, these legs of mine. I get a lot of pain.”
Why, then is the grass green?
“To photosynthesise, plants take in the energy that is emitted on the red light wavelength,” she says. “The red light on the spectrum is absorbed. That means the green light reflects off and hence we see it as green. These crazy bits of info just stick in my brain.”
Nobody likes a smart alec. Except this one.