Stories for a brighter tomorrow | Activist
Matt Levy dived off the blocks and into the boardroom
Australian Paralympian Matt Levy was born prematurely at 25 weeks and developed cerebral palsy and visual impairment because of a brain bleed during the first three days of life. Over his thirty-five years, Matt has won an incredible ten Paralympic medals at five Paralympic Games - from Athens 2004 to Tokyo 2020, where he has won three gold, one silver and six bronze. In 2014, Matt was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the sport.
Matt Levy OAM Paralympic medalist (swimming) and graduate of the Swinburne Online Bachelor of Business (Management)
From a young age, doctors told Matt that he would never walk correctly and that there would be many other things he would not be able to do. Beating all the odds, Matt was thrown into the world and given two choices: to sink or swim – he chose to swim his way past life's roadblocks, becoming a Paralympic gold medallist, motivational public speaker, and successful business manager.
"I completed a Bachelor of Business majoring in management. I knew that study would enhance my way of thinking and broaden the way I look at the world and the environment,"
Matt 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 strong mindset, dedication to training, and desire to enhance his professional career drove his success, both in and out of the pool. “I completed a Bachelor of Business majoring in management. I knew that study would enhance my 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. I can't talk highly enough about the amazing support Swinburne gave me during this time.”
Out of the pool, Matt works for the Bank of Queensland as a Change Analyst. He is also a Brand Ambassador for Right Hear, sits on multiple advisory boards, and contributes as co-chair of the Commonwealth Games Australia Athlete Advisory Group. He is also a member of the Commonwealth Games Federation Executive Board and a member of the Athletes Advisory Commission.
“My Swinburne degree enhanced my understanding of what I was doing at work and with my involvement in other organisations and ultimately how I could do better in these roles through the theory I had learnt. Learning from my mentors and other students was a highlight. Many of the students were workers or single parents with more life skills and experience”.
Reflecting on my study at Swinburne
Matt chose to study at 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 swimming goals at an elite level, working and advancing his education.
“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.”
Matt says he found Swinburne's virtual campus to be an enjoyable place.
“Swinburne brings people and technology together. All the resources and connections that I needed to finish my degree were available all in one 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 because it made it easier to achieve my goals,” he says. “Swinburne brings people and technology together. All the resources and connections that I needed to finish my degree were available all in one place.”
Discovering an accessible and supportive environment
Matt Levy has undergone 50-plus operations – on his heart, lungs, brain, ears and more. Matt has not allowed any of these roadblocks to stop him, and he sees the world as a glass half full. “For me, I guess, it's not so much the obstacles I have had to overcome; it's the opportunities to try and be the best version of myself – it's what you make out of life,” he says.
During Matt's study at Swinburne, he could enlarge the text on his screen when reading his course notes or use audio to support longer texts.
“On some occasions, when the texts were longer, I used technology similar to Siri that allowed me to listen to the material instead, it was easy to navigate,” he says. “You didn't have to worry about reading a big chunk out of a textbook.”
Keeping your head above water
In 2020, Matt published his first book, Keeping Your Head Above Water: Inspirational Insights from a Champion of Life. In his book, Matt details how his perceived shortcomings led him to discover his unique strengths. His story is of courage, overcoming obstacles and facing adversity head-on. In this inspirational book, Matt writes about his life.
In his first 13 years, he had 40 surgeries and countless days in hospital; for many of those, a real risk of not making it through. But then, when he woke up, often still very ill and dizzy, he says there was the euphoria of making it through. Matt reflects that this was what gave him a perspective on life early on. Therefore, he has a sense of his mortality and the need to strive to make the best of his life. “We only get one shot at this.”
In the following year, Matt launched his second book, Brandon Dreams Big, 7 Easy Steps to get to where you want. His second book was written for seven to ten-year-olds, and it shares the journey of Brandon and his goal to compete in the Paralympics and the seven steps he used to achieve his goal.
Life beyond the pool
Matt continues to swim 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 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 the 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”.
“Education is one of the best things,” Matt says. “It gives you an extra skillset.”
Matt says that lessons from his sporting career had also helped him with his work and proved helpful 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.”
Matt believes that receiving an education 'through an institution like Swinburne' has helped provide some balance and offered him opportunities in many other areas of his life. “Education is one of the best things,” Matt says. “It gives you an extra skillset.”