Age – 26
Nationality – Australian
Hometown – Manly, New South Wales
Nickname – Muzz
Career highlights – World and Australian surf ski champion, 2nd at kayaking world champs 2011, winning the 20 Beaches
Interests outside paddling – Architecture, sleeping and, of course, his fiancee Bec!
Murray is an elite athlete who has competed and achieved at the highest level in Sprint Kayaking, Surf Lifesaving and Ocean Racing. Although his passion is usually evenly split between the three disciplines, at present Murray is primarily focusing on Sprint Kayaking as he embarks on a journey towards the London 2012 Olympics.
As a multiple Australian Champion and National Team representative in Sprint Kayaking, and with a silver medal 2011 Sprint Kayaking World Championships last year, Murray is striving towards Olympic glory. The 2011 World Championships marked the first step towards Olympic qualification, with Australia battling the rest of the world for illusive positions at the 2012 London Olympics. This result qualified four positions for Australia at the Olympics and was also Australia’s best ever result in the men’s K4 1000m at a World Championship level.
With the World Championships marking the end of what has been a successful 2011 international and domestic season for Murray, he is now focusing his efforts on preparing for the Olympic trials in March 2012. Murray recently completed a Masters of Architecture at the University of Sydney, where he held the Vice Chancellor’s scholarship for academic and sporting success.
Murray Stewart is an elite kayak, surf ski and ocean racing paddler. In each of those categories, he’s one of the best in the country. Across all three, he’s one of the best in the world. Whilst his athletic achievements are what he is best known for, there’s a lot more to Murray than moving fast in a boat.
The Stewart family migrated from South Africa to Australia in early 2000. “Little Muzz”, a tiny 13 year old about to start high school, had always punched above his weight. In South Africa he had represented his state in water polo, swimming and cross country running. People would watch this kid winning races with legs half the size of the rest of the field, but whizzing twice as fast! The same mental toughness that caused him to win then is the source of Murray’s strength now.
Paddling has always been in Murray’s blood. His father, Robbie, was one of the top sprint, slalom and surf paddlers in South Africa during the 1970s and 80s. Robbie’s Olympic dream was denied due to the ban on South African athletes competing. The dream never died in the Stewart house.
Murray was a talented junior on the surf ski, bagging national medals whilst excelling in his high school exams. He didn’t start kayaking until mid-2005 – chasing his mates around Manly Dam to help their surf ski paddling. His first ski coach, Tony Vieceli, is still one of Murray’s biggest supporters and mentors. In the middle of an impressive first year out of juniors, Murray contracted glandular fever and was out of the boat for a summer. During that hiatus, Murray switched his university degree – staying at Sydney Uni, but committing to another 5 years of study to follow in his mother’s footsteps as an architect.
In late 2006, fully recovered from his illness, Murray joined MWKC and gained his first national selection (in the u23 team) just months later. His first international tour saw him winning the u23 K1 1,000m in Bochum, Germany. He still wasn’t the biggest athlete in the water – in Bochum the Bellarussian paddler who came 3rd stood taller than Murray from the bottom step of the podium – but “Little Muzz” had started to grow, and the Australian paddling community had started to take notice. Unfortunately, any dreams that Murray had of Olympic selection for Beijing were halted in mid-2007. He was in South Africa for the ocean racing world champs, but collapsed from stomach pains the night before the event. He still raced – he didn’t go halfway across the world to pull out – but when he got back to Australia, doctors realized that his appendix had burst and created all sorts of surgical complications. Murray was in hospital for his 21st birthday and, after an agonizing few months of recovery, eventually got back in the boat. His progress was halted again when he fractured a spinal process – one of the little wing-like bones that poke out from your vertebrae.
Many people would have given up if they were put in Murray’s position in early 2008. Not Murray. He kept fit by training on the spin bike. He went through the kayaking movements on a home-made ergo, so that his muscles wouldn’t lose the memory of perfectly efficient movement. His first week back on the water was February 2008, having lost a lot of weight and not paddled for months. He qualified for the national kayak team eight weeks later. Muray is an absolute perfectionist in pretty much everything he does. There is no other way to explain why a 17 year old would spend hours on end in front of a mirror practicing a kayak stroke. Or why he can create a perfect miniature building, of his own design, out of cardboard and balsa wood over the course of a night.
Since 2008, Murray’s career has gone from strength to strength. After another solid performance at the u23 world champs in Bochum, he trained with the Olympic squad in Hungary before blitzing the world surf lifesaving champs to win the single ski. He won the Twenty Beaches in 2008, and was runner-up in the world ocean racing series in 2009; beating his long-time rival turned coach, Tim Jacobs. After winning the single ski at Aussies ‘09 – the biggest accomplishment that an Australian surf ski paddler can dream of – Murray switched his focus to the London Olympics. At his first world champs, Murray placed a credible 8th in the k2 500m. In 2010 he made the men’s k4, getting a 5th at world champs. His crew backed up with a silver medal in 2011, the best an Australian crew has ever done.
You probably know that Murray’s dreams of racing in London are on track to become reality. What you may not know is that in December 2011 Murray got engaged and finished his Masters in Architecture at Sydney Uni. Not content to just coast through, Murray achieved remarkable results and received numerous awards and scholarships recognizing the combination of sporting and athletic achievement. However I’d argue that possibly his ability to remain down-to-earth and understated, preferring to let his actions speak for him.
Murray Stewart’s story is far from over. Best of luck in London, Big Muzz!
(Profile written by Murray’s brother, Jamie)