In the course of a journalism career, you run across some really enjoyable characters who also happen to be elite athletes. Charlotte's Melvin Stewart was one of those -- an Olympic swimmer with an Olympic-sized personality to go along with it.
Stewart, who was born in Gastonia and grew up in Fort Mill and Charlotte, was once won of the best swimmers in the world. He won two gold medals in the 1992 Olympics and was undefeated in his signature event -- the 200 butterfly -- from 1989 to 1995.
Stewart will be back in town this week to do some video work for SwimNetwork.com on the Charlotte UltraSwim, the local swim meet which is garnering major attention this year because Michael Phelps is involved. (Go to CharlotteUltraSwim.com for more information).
Stewart, 40, lives in California now. He is married and has a nine-year-old daughter. He made a decent living as a movie screenwriter for awhile, he said, "working on movies that for the most part never saw the light of day." But now he works for USA Swimming, the national organization based in Colorado, promoting and marketing the sport as well as in alumni relations.
In 1995, we took a picture for The Observer of Melvin walking in uptown Charlotte in only his Speedo during the lunch rush. Watching the people in suits and ties look at him while he strode confidently along was hilarious. Some people would veer away from him. Stewart was fine with it, saying that a Speedo was basically his business suit. "I want people to have an opinion about me," he said.