Kelly Stewart graduated from Newton-Conover High School in 1991 and joined the United States Marine Corps in 1992.
“I knew I wasn’t ready to go to college — nor did I have the money — so I went into the Marine Corps,” Stewart said.
He says joining the United States Marine Corps was the best thing he could have done. “It was a life-changing experience. I tell people that God used the Marine Corps to give me the structure I didn’t have growing up,” he said, adding that he grew up in a single-parent home.
“Statistically, if you look at my life in a textbook, I should wear the cuffs that I carry,” Stewart said. “God used the Marine Corps to prepare me to be a state trooper and allow me to get into a position to positively affect people.”
He has been doing that since 1995. Stewart has served in the North Carolina Highway Patrol as a trooper, line sergeant and currently serves as a line sergeant in the motor carrier unit, where he supervises civilian weigh station operators as well as motor carrier enforcement troopers in 10 counties.
Stewart previously served as a line sergeant in Iredell County before transferring to Catawba County.
Stewart recalls how competitive the field was back when he applied 24 years ago. “When I applied, there were 2,000 applicants. I competed against approximately 2,000 people to get a spot in 60 positions,” he said.
In order to stand out among the crowd, Stewart observed and took notes of applicants performing the agility test. “I went back to Camp Lejeune and set up my own agility test, and practiced it until I beat the times I had recorded for other applicants.”
Stewart ended up soaring through the agility test to secure one of the 60 spots, and went on to be one of 35 to graduate in that class.
Now, Stewart is looking at a retirement date of July 1, 2020. His wife of almost 26 years, Joanna, recently asked him what he would miss about his job. “My initial answer was, ‘Not a whole lot.’”
After giving that answer, a neighbor asked if his son, who wants to be a state trooper, could take a look at Stewart’s patrol car. “After I went back inside from showing him my car, I told my wife to add something that I would miss — telling little kids about my job. To see their enthusiasm rekindles that fire I used to have,” he said.
Stewart’s passion for his job hasn’t disappeared, but he said the flame’s brightness has dimmed. “You can only knock on somebody’s door so many times to say, ‘Your son or daughter isn’t coming home,’ or, ‘Your wife isn’t coming home,’ and it’ll eat away at you,” he said.
Thankfully, Stewart found a way to cope with the demands of his job. “How I manage it is through running. It’s where I can get by myself and solve a lot of problems, and I can just get away,” he explained.
Stewart was also presented with the opportunity to build his own running company with his wife. Called RunTimeRaces, the organization is designed to plan 5K events that benefit various local fundraisers and nonprofits.
RunTimeRaces tagline is Hebrews 12:1-2. Stewart says the verses serve at the very least as a conversation starter.
“I’ve had several people ask me what Hebrews 12:1-2 means, and then I get to share about running the good race and keeping your focus on Christ, stripping away everything that weighs you down,” he said. “Even if they aren’t a Christian, they can still appreciate it from a runner’s standpoint.”
The organization is involved with approximately 22 running events across the span of 12 months. Find more information at runtimeraces.com
Apart from continuing to run and being a father to three children and one grandchild, Stewart looks forward to life after retirement. “I’m ready to open the next chapter in my life. I’m already networking at what I want to do next,” he said.
On what motivates him.
“I’m a very goal- and task-oriented person. What motivates me is to have a target to aim at. It helps me focus. I have adult ADHD, but I have learned to overcome it with goals and targets. If you ever get to the point in life where you are no longer trying to achieve, then you are going backwards. There is personal, professional and spiritual growth to always work on.”
Stewart is currently working towards a 12-hour run that will be held in September.
On the greatest challenge he has overcome.
“Not letting my circumstances growing up determine who I became as an adult. I’m an all-or-nothing person. There is no middle gear; you either get nothing or 150 percent.”
On the best advice he has received.
“‘You make your decisions, and then your decisions make you.’ I can’t remember where I heard it. I give that advice often to young people and coworkers, but my kids have probably heard it the most. I try to stress that whatever you do today will help determine who and where you're going to be tomorrow.”