Success and adversity – veteran stays in the game

Bill Stewart and Saanich Fusion team captain Jeevan Manhas celebrate their victory, earning the 2016 Tony Grover Masters’ Cup for the Over 35 A Division of the Vancouver Island Soccer League and the Alec Hylan Player of The Game Trophy. Photo submitted by Saanich Fusion

Bill Stewart and Saanich Fusion team captain Jeevan Manhas celebrate their victory, earning the 2016 Tony Grover Masters’ Cup for the Over 35 A Division of the Vancouver Island Soccer League and the Alec Hylan Player of The Game Trophy. Photo submitted by Saanich Fusion

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

The way former Royal Canadian Navy sailor Bill Stewart sees it, the oranges he cuts up and serves at halftime to the players on the Saanich Fusion men’s soccer team are a metaphor for life.

“Some days are sweet while some are sour,” says Pte (Ret’d) Stewart as he prepares refreshing citrus bites for the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s Over-35 team.

His sweetest day was back in 1975 when he led CFB Esquimalt to a Canadian Armed Forces National Soccer Championship by scoring a hat trick in the deciding game against CFB Cold Lake.

The former navy cook recalls the storybook ending of scoring the winning goal on the final play of the game.

“The ball came across the midfield and I back-heeled it and then did my patented toe-poke shot,” he says of the moment. “I saw an opening in the goal; I hit it with the front of my foot to score on the final play of the game and we won the nationals.”

The entire team and coaching staff piled on top of him. That moment is rooted in his memory like a still photo.

During his two-year military career between 1974 and 1976, Stewart worked the mess in HMCS Terra Nova, HMCS Qu’Appelle and HMCS Kootenay. While he was quite proficient at his trade in the kitchen, the navy thought so highly of his soccer skills they sent a helicopter out to the Qu’Appelle, which was a couple of days into its voyage to Hawaii, to fly him back to Victoria to play in the series.

“I was only 19 years old at the time and I was getting the royal treatment; I felt like the Duke of Sooke when that helicopter took off from the deck,” says Stewart.

He got hooked on soccer at five years old and gradually developed a reputation as a proficient finisher in front of the goal. During his first year in the navy he was the target man for CFB Borden, who finished the CAF Championship as runners-up.

“Some athletes go through their whole life dreaming of that day of winning a championship but it never happens,” says Stewart. “To me, winning that championship was like living a dream.”

But with the sweet times comes the sour ones.

Three years following that soccer win Stewart experienced a life threatening accident.

He was working as a chef at the Banff Spring Hotel when a co-worker came to him complaining she had left keys inside her fourth floor hotel room.

He offered to retrieve them by climbing through an outside window to her room. Things didn’t go as planned. He lost his grip and fell more than 40 feet to the ground.

The list of injuries was extensive: broken ribs, broken tailbone, crushed vertebrae and lung, two blood clots in his brain, and paralyse on his right side.  He slipped into a coma following the accident and didn’t regain consciousness until three weeks later.

When he came to doctors told him he would likely never walk again.

“I know others would have given up, but it’s not in my mindset, I don’t know how to give up,” says Stewart.

It took him more than six months to get out of his chair and walk.

He now walks with a noticeable limp.

The important thing, says Stewart, is that he found his way back onto the soccer pitch in 1983, not as a player but a team manager for Vic West. The more than a century-old club was a team his father, grandfather and great uncle also played for, so reconnecting with Vic West was crucial for Stewart at that stage in his life.

Although he parted with Vic West three seasons ago, Stewart didn’t quit the game but instead took up a similar position with their rivals in Saanich.

This is where he slices up bags of oranges before the team’s matches.

“All the players on the team know Bill’s story and what he has overcome to be with us,” says team captain Jeevan Manhas. “The oranges he serves at halftime, and his smile, gives us an edge.”

Stewart has also formed friendships with internationally known athletes including world snooker champion Cliff Thorburn, two-time National Basketball Association MVP Steve Nash and his family, former Vancouver Whitecaps and Canadian international midfielder Bob Bolitho, former Dallas Cowboys kicker Eddie Murray, and Harlem Globetrotters legends Jimmy Blacklock, Sweet Lou Dunbar and Hubert Ausbie.

Their friendship was crucial to Stewart overcoming his accident and dealing with lemons in life.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t delay what you can do today. That’s the attitude I like to have in life. It’s also the lesson the beautiful game has taught me.”

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  1. Cathie says:

    Wow what a great read Billy as l alway”s called you in high-school what a fabulous story was heartwarming to read and it made me get shivers when l read where you had taken a huge fall but couldn’t help but think alway”s so chivalrous to help another. I also didn’t know you were navy my Dad was too but had retired before your dates stated he also worked on refurbishing the ships at dock yard after he retired from the navy your storyis an inspiration to all….l really got a chuckle out of you saying you felt like the Duke of Sooke at 19 that would have been an amazing experience….So glad you not only survived but thrived ….l had heard years ago when it happened that you had had a severe accident and had some severe spinal damage and we were all worried about you so.glad l.finally got to hear the full story and happy ending…l.guess it’s not just your beautiful smile that you are remembered for …Take Care my friend

  2. Great to read,Bill. Fantastic….will read many times.Thanks again,,,,,,,,,,john

  3. Heather Lavallee says:

    Thank you.
    Heather Lavallee
    Victoria British Columbia

  4. Heather Lavallee says:

    Meet you at the bus stop and you are very friendly, your story is a path to always finding positivity in anything you have and alway fighting.
    Heather 😘

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