Swimmer Matt Levy on preparing for his fifth Paralympic Games


Matt Levy was born premature at 25 weeks, legally blind and with cerebral palsy. He has had more than 40 operations - but none of that defines him.

He is an elite swimmer, five-time Paralympian, multiple medallist and world record holder. He has also been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Matt took up swimming as a child and found it easier to move in the water. Inspired by the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Matt stepped up his training to compete at the Athens Games in 2004.

matt levy oam paralympian swimmer tokyo paralympic games

How did you become a competitive swimmer?

I was 13 years old when I started, so it was to keep more healthy and get muscles moving. It had always been part of my life from a health perspective rather than competing and winning medals - something I've made a part of my day rather than to win a medal or form a team.

When I was in school I had to get up at 5am and start training at 5.30am. I was nearly falling asleep in class. It ingrained the values and beliefs I know today in terms of determination, time management, goal setting, having a team around you to help. I've learned a lot of skills in sport that I've passed on to my working life as well.

How has your training been affected by COVID?

The past 18 months have been pretty tough from a COVID perspective. When COVID hit, the pool I was training at closed, and I had to decide where I could swim.

That's where the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) opportunity to train came along.

Tell me more about your Paralympics career?

I'm towards the end of my career now. There's the Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham] next year so hopefully I'll be staying a little bit longer. By then I'll have been to five Paralympic Games - there's only been two swimmers who have achieved this, there are a few in other sports but it's definitely rare.

From a medal perspective, London has been my most successful - one gold, one silver, and three bronze - which led to receiving the Order of Australia medal in 2014.  I've swum in the 100 metres freestyle, relay, individual medley, butterfly, breaststroke - everything bar backstroke. This time around it will be mainly freestyle.

You recently published a book, Keeping Your Head Above Water. How did that come about?

I have people who follow my journey, and people in the team ask me for advice. I like to share what I've done with others.  The book is telling my story - I put it together to depict what success means to me and what I've learnt throughout my life and sporting career.

It's about what it means to be successful - my understanding of what success is.

It's really important that people are aware of disability and understand that not every disability is visual. At end of the day the only person that knows what you go through is you. You do what you have to deal with and learn from what you do, you do it in the way you know you can do it.

What was your first job?

My first job was working at the House with No Steps [now Aruma], a disability organisation in Sydney's Belrose, which helps people with disabilities. I worked at reception, welcoming guests. Now I'm working at Westpac as a change analyst, working on a regulatory program.

I've been there over 11 years. It's good to learn skills outside sport and have a balance, not just competing for country but knowing I'm contributing in other ways. All through my sporting career I worked in some capacity. It's really great to learn and understand things from a different perspective because at the end of the day, sport is great but it's not the be-all and end-all.

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

To do your research before you spend anything and to invest wisely!

What's the best investment decision you've made?

I bought a house in 2012. That was the best investment decision I've made because you want a roof over your head - it gives you stability, and continues to increase in value, hopefully.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Not investing sooner - just generally. At school you don't learn a lot about investment, you learn about business and a bit of budgeting but you don't learn enough to make sensible investment decisions. If I'd learned about that earlier on I could have made more informed decisions and invested at 18 rather than 28.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

My favourite things to splurge on are Amazon Prime and Netflix. With training for the Paralympics I don't have time to splurge on other things but when I'm in quarantine for two weeks on my return I might splurge more.

It's tough not to splurge on online shopping and in the Paralympic Village I usually have a big splurge on the merchandise in the gift shops.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

I'd put it in an ETF probably because it has a diverse range of stocks - property and technology stocks potentially. With COVID and vaccines being important now, I would want a company on the rise with that.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I think I'd probably just leave it in there and maybe do some kind of budgeting to make it last.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

Yes, to family.

Would you like to see any changes with the way people look at money post-COVID?

With people are stuck at home, they are spending a lot more time online, and one of my MBA projects last year showed the increase in online shopping has been substantial, so more education on that would be good, not to stop it but what to do that is better than just buying clothes. How can we use online shopping better?

Finish this sentence: money makes...

... dreams possible.

Order Matt's online at mattlevyoam.com.au

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.