April 5, 2011
Ray Stewart, an Oakland native who transferred to Cal before the start of this year, has already stamped his name in the Cal record book. During the 2011 indoor season, he set a school record in the 60-meter hurdles, running 7.77, then later captured the MPSF championship to cap the campaign. Stewart opened the outdoor season by running a PR 13.66 in the 110-meter hurdles at the Stanford Invitational. Prior to attending Cal, he was a two-time state JC champion in the 110 hurdles at Oakland's Merritt College, as well as a state qualifier at James Logan High School.
CalBears.com recently caught up with Stewart to get his thoughts on the beginning of his Golden Bear career.
What inspired you to take up the hurdles?
I actually did not like track. My sister was part of a team called 3M over in Oakland. I was playing basketball, but then I didn't want to play anymore and my mom told me I had to do something. I thought about wrestling, but the wrestling season was over pretty quick. She said you've got to run, but I didn't like running at all and would be really lazy on the track. Then she bribed me with a jacket that I really wanted. That's how I got started. I was in eighth grade, about 13. I would always run the 100 because I had a little bit of speed. I would be coming in third or fourth and I really wanted to win. My coach said I was tall, so why not try the hurdles.
When did you realize you could be good at the hurdles?
What was your experience like at Merritt College?
My freshman year, a lot of my coaches would tell me, `you've got a lot of potential.' But I never really wanted to go for track. I liked football and basketball better. I played those in high schools. My sophomore year I said I'd give it a tryout. I'd practice hard. It paid off well, but my junior year it paid off even more. I had a really consistent season, and I finished the season almost breaking 14 seconds. I only had one track meet my senior year because I got hurt. I ran 13.91 at the Stanford Invitational, and it was the fastest time in the nation. So that's when I thought this is for me.
Stepping in freshman year, I was really, really nervous because I didn't finish my senior year so I didn't practice that whole time or train. And then what would have been my freshman year, I didn't compete. Coming into the year after that, it was challenging for me. But I like challenges. I opened up at 14.98 and I worked my way down to 13.72.
Why did you come to Cal?
It was the chance to stay local, but then in high school, I always wanted to come to Cal ... just seeing people wear blue & gold. Playing NCAA Football, I always created myself and put me on the team, or in NCAA Basketball, I put myself on the team. I got the opportunity from Coach (John) Gipson and Coach (Tony) Sandoval. They called me and let me know they were interested.
How would you assess your start at Cal?
A tremendous start. I'm more powerful and mentally stronger. The biggest part of track to me is the mental aspect. I feel like my mentality is catching up with my physical presence. A lot of athletes will be very strong and fast, but then mentally, they're not ready to go as fast as their body can go. I feel like I'm getting there.
You had never competed indoors before this year, then set the school record your first time out and later won the MPSF indoor title in the 60 hurdles. How did that feel?
I was having a little bit of problems early in the season with a little back injury. Then when I finally got everything together, it turned out good. MPSF was big. I was so proud to wear the Cal uniform. I felt like I took on a challenge to wear Cal gear and represent myself the way I wanted to.
You became Cal's fourth-fastest performer ever in the 110 hurdles at Stanford Invitational in March. How fast do you think you can go outdoors?
I believe I can go in the 13.20s. I talked to one of my friends who was a powerhouse at UCLA - he ran hurdles and ran 13.3. He said the fastest he ever opened in was 13.78. So, opening up in 13.66 is huge to me.