Hearing the Success: Wrestling has helped Stewart excel as an athlete/coach despite being deaf

By Mike Finn

Roger Stewart might have been born deaf 42 years ago, but the native of Virginia could always see. It was that ability and his love of wrestling that allowed him to move past a world that might have called him disabled.

“It’s what you can see going on in life and being able to utilize that in your daily activities or independent-living skills,” said Stewart, whose verbal skills are strong while he also wears a hearing aid to help him communicate with those who can hear.

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(Stewart became a spokesperson for Widex Moment hearing aids after his long-time audiologist informed him of the Denmark-based company’s new product.)

Stewart has gotten a chance to see much of the world in his life, including his childhood in a military family in Germany, where he admitted he did not reach out much to others, whether they could hear or not.

That was until he met a coach Jim Humphreys at Wakefield High as 15-year-old sophomore when he realized that wrestling and his vision helped him overcome any walls.

Roger Stewart, the head coach at Louisa High School in Virginia will wrestle in both the Deaf Senior World Championships in September and the Veteran World Championships next October in Greece.

“Growing up, I was a lonely person, but when it came to wrestling, I interacted with people more,” said Stewart, who used those skills to meet the likes of Olympic wrestlers Greg Gibson and Buddy Lee, who taught him a lot more about this sport.

“Like many people say, if you surround yourself with successful people you are going to be successful yourself,” Stewart said.

“God opened up so many doors that it allowed me to talk to people to say, ‘hi’ and to have a conversation with them about life,” added Stewart, pointing out that his deafness allowed him to feel things others could not.

“In a deaf world, I feel that I have more of an advantage because I can focus more knowing that it’s only me, myself and I. It’s a point where you must believe in yourself to find your opportunity to be successful. You become more wise and able to notice certain things and utilize every opportunity.”

Along the way, he heard expressions like, “the more mistakes you make, the better you become,” and “It’s not the win that you want, it’s the performance that you need that’s going to make you successful in a match.”

Stewart also pointed out his senses sometimes got in the way of his wrestling, especially when he tried to focus on his coach.  

“My disadvantage was not being able to look at my coach and see what he wants me to do or know if the match is stopped or if the official blew the whistle,” said Stewart, adding this forced him to learn how to coach himself.

“I would become more focused on my opponent in front of me or what technique that I’m using to win and not get taken down or turned to my back.”

Stewart used this knowledge to continually get better; first a good wrestler at Woodbridge High School in Virginia, a member of his state’s Junior National team in both freestyle and Greco; a spot on the Old Dominion University team and a member of several U.S. Deaflympics teams; most recently in 2022.

Stewart will compete next fall in the Deaf World Championships in September and Veteran’s World Championships in October.

Along the way, Stewart got into coaching and excelled as a high school coach for the past 25 years, most recently at Louisa County High School in Virginia.

During these past three decades, he has had plenty of state champions.

“I feel I am a better coach than a wrestler,” said Stewart, who more importantly helped his athletes realize that they are many different people in world with similar passions … whether they can or cannot hear or have what some may call a disability.

“I treat them how I want to be treated,” he said. “They are no different than anyone else. You have to be satisfied how you are made by the man (God) upstairs. Try to figure it out in order to figure out what you want to do. That’s the only way you can live life.”

Sadly, Stewart admitted he was bullied at times, including by some teammates who felt he did not belong in the sport. 

During one tournament he remembers an opponent whom he beat complaining that he, “lost to someone with a disability.”

“I wanted to prove people wrong,” he said. “I was given a lot of negativities. I was brought down. I was bullied verbally and almost pushed out the door. It motivated me to keep going.”

And at this point, it doesn’t appear that Stewart will stop for anything.

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