Swinburne Online Bachelor of Business (Management) graduate and Paralympian
Swimmer Matthew Levy completed his Bachelor of Business at Swinburne in a two-year window that opened for him between the 2012 London Paralympics and the 2016 Rio Paralympics. His athlete’s dedication to training and his desire to enhance his professional career drove his success, both in the pool and out.
Juggling training, work and study
In the lead up to Rio, Matt was training at the North Sydney pool between 5am and 7am each weekday, and again between 5pm and 7pm. Four days a week, after finishing his morning session, he caught the train to the Sydney suburb of Kogarah to his job at the Westpac Technology Centre. On his morning and evening commute to the pool, Matt studied on his laptop.
Matt had won 2012 gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2012 Paralympics and was to follow up with a bronze medal at Rio in 2016. He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2014 for his accomplishments in the pool. When he applied to Swinburne for his business degree he had completed a marketing diploma in Sydney and received credits for this study. He chose Swinburne after some advice from the education unit at the NSW Institute of Sport and says the program appealed because it gave him the flexibility to complete his degree online.
Matt quickly realised he could study during the gaps in his schedule and achieve his multiple goals of swimming at an elite level, working at the bank and advancing his education. ‘I knew that study would enhance my way of thinking and broaden the way I look at the world and the environment,’ he says. ‘The flexibility of studying online allowed me to continue to travel for international competitions and helped create a work environment that was both positive and productive.’
Discovering an accessible and supportive environment
Matt, who was born 15 weeks premature, has cerebral palsy and is visually impaired. He is an ambassador for Life’s Little Treasures, a foundation that helps raise awareness of prematurity in the community. ‘It’s a charity that is close to my heart,’ he says. During his study, he was able to enlarge the text on his screen when reading his course notes. ‘On some occasions, when the texts were longer, I used technology similar to Siri that allowed me to listen to the material instead,’ he says. It was easy to navigate. ‘You didn’t have to worry about reading a big chunk out of a textbook.’
Matt says he found Swinburne’s virtual campus to be a satisfying place. ‘Swinburne designs its online courses as a complete experience. All the resources I needed to finish my degree were available online. I appreciated the convenience of this, because it made it easier to achieve my goals,’ he says.
He found company online too. Students can communicate with each other on a forum called Blackboard, which allows them to share information. ‘You got to know the other students pretty well; who you would want to pair up with on some projects,' he says. ‘Everyone had a different situation. Some were single parents. You could have a close bond with the people you were dealing with and I thrived in that environment.’
All the students were asked to introduce themselves online too and in this way Matt’s teachers and classmates learned about his Paralympic successes and training schedule. ‘All the lecturers were really supportive,’ Matt says. ‘The other students were as well. All the lecturers were mentors in a way. They taught me to study in an effective manner and how to get through it with as little stress as possible.’
If it sounds like an astonishing juggling act, it probably was. ‘Everyone is busy, but … if you manage your time effectively, you always have time to do something extra,’ he says. ‘I always made time to do the study. You have to be creative in how you manage it.’ As far as he could tell, his fellow online students had committed lives too. ‘People study online for a specific reason.’
Hard work and preparation
Matt, now 30, still travels to Westpac at Kogarah, where he works as an analyst, and still trains 36 to 40 hours a week at North Sydney. This interview was held while he was on the train after work, on his daily commute to the pool, where he was preparing for the national para swimming trials. His aim is to qualify for the World Paralympic Swimming Championships in Mexico City in September this year. The next big event is the Commonwealth Games, to be held on the Gold Coast in 2018 and then, if all goes well, the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020. ‘Thirty is not old, but in terms of an athletic career it is,’ he says. ‘While you are enjoying it, you may as well keep going.’
Matt attended his first Paralympics in Athens in 2004, when he was 17. ‘I was a bit overawed with the first one,’ he recalls, ‘I was just feeling it out.’ He says he has learned a great deal from his fellow competitors about how to cope with the pressure. The year before competing in Athens, Matt had broken the 200-metre freestyle world record — it remains his favourite event. In the 2008 Beijing Games, he went on to win gold in the 4 x 100 metre medley relay.
‘Every Games you attend is pretty special,’ he says. ‘I have tried to cope … by focusing on the process and by doing everything right on the day as much as I can. Knowing that you have done the hard work of preparation also makes it easier to relax. It’s what I try to do with most of what I do,’ he says. ‘We are only here for a short time.’
Matt says that lessons from his sporting career have also helped him with his work at Westpac, and proved useful when he was studying too. No matter what you are attempting ‘go into it with an open mind,’ he says. ‘You don’t know what you are capable of if you don’t try.’
Life beyond the pool
Matt believes he is swimming as strongly as ever he has, but at the same time he is aware that his swimming career will not last forever. And that brings the conversation back to the importance of study, of having a platform for building a fulfilling life that will carry him into the future.
‘Doing sport at the highest level — I see it as a gift. It’s really a matter of what you learn from this experience,’ he says. And the lessons are important, because success has its negatives too. ‘The feeling is pretty surreal,’ he explains. ‘You are in a bit of a bubble with sport. You are swimming up and down the black line for hours ...’ Without careful planning, the sacrifice and concentrated focus can mean there is not much room left for other aspects of life.
Matt believes that having the opportunity to receive an education ‘through an institution like Swinburne’ has helped provide some balance. ‘Education is one of the best things,’ he says. ‘It gives you an extra skill set.'
Words by Katherine Kizilos.