Have you heard of Big Tom? Kamloops Paralympian leaves impression on little girl | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Have you heard of Big Tom? Kamloops Paralympian leaves impression on little girl

Gray Dougall holding a picture she drew of her friend "Big Tom," Kamloops Paralympian Greg Stewart.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Kaij Dougall
September 19, 2020 - 6:00 PM

Gray Dougall met Big Tom while on a road trip through Kamloops two years ago.

The chance meeting she had at five-years-old with the tall, one-armed man at the restaurant Hello Toast was only about 30 seconds long, but it left a big impression.

"I always thought Gray would kind of just let it go," her mother Kaij Dougall said. 

"But a couple of times a week she would say something about Big Tom, it just kept going on, year after year."

She said she didn't know exactly the man had said, only that Gray called him Big Tom and he'd explained to her he was born without one arm.

Last week, when Gray told her mother she missed Big Tom, Kaij decided she'd try to find him, not expecting much to come of it.

"Ever since COVID happened and not being at school, not being around her friends, she's been really sad," Kaij said.

"I was like, OK, maybe I could give her something happy."

Kaij posted the story of Big Tom on a Kamloops Facebook page Sept. 14, and within 20 minutes locals began mentioning the name Greg Stuart.

"Everyone started mentioning how this was Greg, I showed the picture to Grey and asked, is this Big Tom?" Kaij said.

"The look on her face when I showed her the picture, it was like seeing Santa. Her smile, it made me cry. She was so happy."

It didn't take long for Greg to see the post and send a comment to Kaij.

"When he reached out and he said he thought he was 'Big Tom,' Gray and I were dancing around the living room,'" she said.

The more Gray learned about Greg, the more excited she got. She was particularly impressed when she saw a photo of him with a prosthetic arm.

"She called it his robot arm, and that’s what impressed her the most," Kaij said. "She was like ‘He’s part robot, this is so cool.’"

They also discovered that Greg, who is seven-foot-three, was a TRU athlete and currently a Paralympian shot-putter. Greg was going to compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer for shot-put, but the games were postponed due to the pandemic. 

"She’s so excited, she said I can’t wait until he gets to go do it again so I can cheer for him," Kaij said.

"She’s his biggest fan, and has been for the last two years."

The two reconnected and have been chatting over Facebook messenger.

Greg vaguely remembers his interaction with Gray but had no idea he'd left such an impact on her.

"It was a pretty cool experience," he said, explaining that few children have the courage to come talk to him about his arm.

"But I didn’t really think much of it until Monday."

Kaij's post has over 200 comments, many of which are from members of the community who recognized Greg.

"From everything that I’ve read about him, he’s just this amazing human being," Kaij said.

When Greg saw the post himself, he was surprised and touched by what he read.

"I read over the whole post, and actually I cried afterwards," he said.

"It was just an emotional experience, just to have people make that connection and say all those really nice, lovely things. It was just super heartwarming."

Kaij has promised Gray that once the pandemic is over, they will make a trip to Kamloops to meet up with Greg.

He's onboard with the idea too, and hopes they can have their reunion at Hello Toast once again.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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