For a man who spent much of this year jetting around Europe, Stewart McSweyn has a strong sense of home.
He’s registered his vote in the King Island local government elections, celebrated Currie Football Club’s premiership from afar, and his passion for the town of 1500 even extends to the dairy aisle of the supermarket.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the only cheese I have in my house in Melbourne,” the 23-year-old said of King Island’s top export.
“You kind of understand it more when you’re from King Island - you understand how good the produce is and you know what you’re eating is quality.”
Like a King Island Dairy sensory judge, McSweyn became used to tasting success in the 2018 season as he swept aside a smorgasbord of personal and Tasmanian records.
In ticking off his maiden open title at the Zatopek 10, the 23-year-old qualified for a home Commonwealth Games, finishing fifth in the 5000m and 11th in the 10,000m in front of 20 of his closest friends and family.
From there the budding high school teacher took time aside to rest and went on placement before setting off for a 17-week European track season where he would compete in more than a dozen different nations.
In Norway he set a 10,000m PB of 28:05.37, a 3:34.82 1500m in Germany followed.
New best times for the 3000m (7:34.49 in Morocco), mile (3:54.60 in England) and 5000m (13:05.23 in Belgium) came in the space of two months as he etched his name as one of the most versatile middle distance runners Tasmania, if not Australia, has produced.
And he’s not done yet.
“I was unsure how the European season would go coming off the Comm Games - you have the big high and then you’ve got to try and piece it together for a four-month period but it was a pretty unbelievable European season,” McSweyn said.
“I went better than I’d even dreamed of before the European season so it was a big step up, a big breakthrough and it leaves me pretty excited for what I can do in 2019.
“I think I can run a lot faster time-wise and I think I can also compete better - in that final race in Diamond League I ran 13.05 - the second fastest ever by an Australian - and I was 20 seconds behind the winner.
“If I’m going to be on the world stage up towards the medals I’ve got to find a bit of improvement, but I think I definitely can do that in 2019.”
McSweyn’s major strides forward in 2018 came via improved consistency – he left “only one or two” races disappointed and quickly learned how to compete with the world’s best week upon week.
The rest he credits to a stronger mental game which is helping him not to be overawed by rubbing shoulders with his heroes.
“Especially in Europe it’s tough when you’re on the starting line and you’re standing next to guys who are world champs and Olympic medallists - they are kind of your idols so it’s easily to mentally think you’re not going to beat them.
“But I think that was a big thing I stepped up in Europe, you go into races focusing on yourself more than anyone - not worrying if they’ve got a world title or Olympic medal, you’re just trying to race them on the day.
“A lot of the races you might be the only white guy in some of the Diamond Leagues, so you look around and you're racing 10 or 15 Africans so you could get mentally defeated - I think that was the big mental thing I improved on in 2018.”
McSweyn will return to defend his Burnie Ten title on Sunday morning before flying back to Melbourne to continue a teaching placement at Westbourne Grammar School.
This time next year he will be qualified to teach year 7-10 English, and arguably over-qualified to teach year 7-12 health and physical education.
His track schedule will keep him from signing a teaching contract any time soon, but in the meantime study is a welcome and even relaxing distraction from his training program.
“Hopefully I don’t have to use it for a lot of years but it’ll be nice having it in my back pocket.
“When I was doing my placement after Comm Games ... you have a lot of kids so excited and just wanting to know what it was like, but also asking for tips because running compares to a lot of other sports.
“They’d want to know how to get fitter to help with the footy they play on the weekend or whatever sport they do.
“Teaching is a job where you can play a pretty important role in someones else’s life, so I think that’s kind of the cool part – I’m definitely looking forward to doing it when I’m done running.”
The next two years shape as the biggest yet for McSweyn as he winds up for a shot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
En route he will continue to press into new parts of the world – starting with the world championships in Qatar next year – and also decide whether his pet events will be the 10,000m and 5000m or the 1500m and 5000m.
“Thinking back on it now it’s pretty crazy,” McSweyn said of his regular travel commitments.
“When I was in Europe I went to 13 or 14 different countries and it’s pretty crazy travelling around jumping from city to city and place to place.
“When I was growing up I didn’t think I would even go to one country overseas, so it’s pretty crazy when you look back growing up on such a small place like King Island.
“It’s kind of a motivator when you’re away to have a good season so when you come back you can enjoy it with all the people who support you throughout the year - that was definitely me when I came back from this season.”