WAVE Magazine Fall 2018 JU_WaveMag_Fall18_2 - Page 44

CLASS NOTES FROM HOMELESS TO HERO: NINJA WARRIOR & JU ALUM, GABE STEWART '16 BY SHERI WEBBER '93 “Be positive. Be passionate. Be proud to be an Eagle.” Stewart was playing varsity football, what he considered a real turning point. That’s the official school motto of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School, where Jacksonville University (JU) alumnus Gabe Stewart ‘16 coached. But the mantra 23-year old Stewart carried —literally stamped across his chest— into one of America’s most iconic tests of survival and athleticism was #MSDStrong. “I fell in love with football. In 2009, we made it to the Maryland 4A State Championship and played in the Baltimore Raven Stadium.” He’s a diehard Ravens fan and lists the experience among his fondest memories during a time when he rarely knew where he would sleep or find his next meal. On June 13, he appeared in the tenth season of “American Ninja Warrior.” Only one of many experiences he will never forget. Ten years ago… Stewart entered Huntingtown High School in Maryland in 2008. “My freshman year, I was on my own. My mother was struggling with an addiction and was no longer in the picture.” Staying with friends, moving from place to place, with no home to call his own, he says that football, basketball, and track were what kept him “on track” and in school during those difficult years. By his sophomore year, FEATURES As a junior, and still without a permanent residence, Stewart made a connection with a family who offered him a place to finally call home. “The Morehead-Yost family are the kindest people I have ever known,” he says. By senior year, his excellence on the field landed him a place on the Maryland All- State Team and an opportunity to practice at the University of Maryland and benefit from collegiate-level coaching. “I graduated Huntingtown in 2012, though I never really thought I would earn a high school diploma, given my circumstances.” Through a series of re-connections and introductions, Stewart entered Shepherd University as a preferred walk-on. Though his freshman year led to making travel squad, he made the hard decision to relocate to Florida with his adoptive family. “It was always my dream to be a D I athlete, and I can’t imagine a better experience than the one I had with JU’s football program,” Stewart says. Though a stranger—new to the city, the state, and the University— Stewart says JU embraced him. “My high school was hundreds of miles away, nobody knew me, and still they accepted me. I found lifelong mentors in the coaches at JU, friendships in my teammates, and some amazing professors." One faculty member who offered continual encouragement was Assistant Professor of Sociology Shelley Grant. Stewart says she was a critical part of securing a job with Communities In Schools (CIS) following graduation. “JU shaped me into the person I am today and gave me the tools to really succeed.”