Bushman, bodybuilder, axeman, runner… any one of these titles fits Matthew Grant Stewart (Matt) like a chainsaw mitt. His love for the bush gelled well with his passion for fitness, and combining the two to become a competitive axeman was a natural progression.
It all began as a child, sitting on his dad’s knee in any number of skidders, diggers, haulers or loaders.
“Dad (Grant Stewart) is a bushman and I would go to work with him at a young age. I put my first back-cut in a tree with Dad’s assistance at age three or four. I also used to jump in the bulldozer that put the skids in with forestry legend Gordy Adams down in Dunedin,” says Matt.
After leaving school at 15, Matt (now 30) went to work with his father at Stewart Logging in Gisborne. “Over the space of about three months Dad and I both knew it wasn’t going to work out at that time,” he says, “so I did a general engineering apprenticeship. After three years I had finished my time and Dad needed a breaker out, so off to the bush I went, this time determined to make it work, because once you have sap in your veins it’s hard to turn your back on the bush.”
All in the family, along with five other crew members, the Stewart Logging crew consists of Grant, Matt’s Mum Loryn, his brother Dan, sister Alyse, brother in-law Denis and his wife Anita who is learning IT from Loryn when the kids are both at Kindy.
“I’m the foreman and currently driving our big tower Thunderbird TY90 hauler. I also look after all the Health & Safety and help out with planning. I’ve been in forestry for 12 years now so can also do all other job roles. What I enjoy most is our team. All our guys make it a fun place to work but still put in the hard yards and get the job done," says Matt.
The gym lifestyle
Matt is no stranger to hard work. He got into “hitting the gym” when he was in high school: “I did powerlifting for a year or so but went back to various other sports including rugby, boxing and MMA as I liked the fitness side of things at that stage. Once we moved to Gisborne, a couple of people I met asked me to hit the gym with them which was about 10 years ago now. As time went on I got deeper and deeper into the gym lifestyle. I lived and breathed it for seven years.”
What he loved about the gym was its impact on his mental health – walking through those gym doors “provided an escape from all the crap most people go through”. It was challenging too and Matt says near the end of his bodybuilding career he struggled with the dieting. “Cutting down to 4% body fat really takes its toll on you and tests your mental strength in a big way. In saying that, I am still...