Heart of Gold
Chatting to Paralympian Logan Powell is an incredibly refreshing experience.
The young swimmer’s hard work in the pool has yielded huge results and opened many doors for the kid from a cane farm in Mackay.
Losing his lower right leg in an accident at eighteen months of age has not slowed him down, as he instead focussed on keeping up with his dirt bike-riding older brothers.
One of four sporty children, Logan grew up enjoying a huge range of outdoor activities before finding swimming at his mother’s insistence at age nine – and he hasn’t looked back.
Representing Australia in the Men’s S9 400m Freestyle, Men’s S9 100m Backstroke and Men’s S9 100 Butterfly in the 2016 Paralympics at Rio de Janeiro gave Logan a taste of competition on the world stage which translated to a bronze medal in the Men’s S9 100m Backstroke in front of a home crowd at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Now swimming for the University of the Sunshine Coast Spartans, Logan’s positivity is infectious and after spending time with him, it becomes quickly evident that anything is possible for this remarkable young man.
Logan is practical about his success in the pool, attributing his success to good old-fashioned hard work and the support of his family – in both the traditional and swimming sense.
Focussing on just living his best life – one without any limitations – it’s a joy to speak to Logan about swimming, travelling, staying cool under pressure and everything in between.
Q: Just to begin, you said you lost your leg when you were eighteen-months-old, so you don’t really know any other way to be. Do you think that might have helped your attitude as compared to someone who may have had an accident and lost a limb later in life?
A: For sure, yeah. People that lose their leg older always struggle… because they’ve just had a normal life the whole time and then something gets taken away. But for me, yeah, I’ve had it since I was 18 months old and so it’s not any different for me. I’ve been asked to talk to people (who have lost a limb) before and I’m not really the best for it because I just go in with the attitude of ‘suck it up’. Like, there’s people out there with much worse conditions and there’s always going to be someone out there struggling more than you, so you’ve just got to go for it. It’s hard to approach that sort of thing because you can’t just be brutal and you can’t be all soft on them.
Q: When did you first take up swimming?
A: Mum made me go when I was probably about… nine? We always had a pool and we always went tubing and stuff with the boats. Mum wanted me to be confident around the water, which I was already, but obviously with the leg playing soccer or something as I got older was not going to be practical and swimming would just help so much with the leg and staying fit and all that sort of stuff. So that’s why Mum got me into it originally.
Q: And you weren’t sold on the swimming at that time?
A: No, I hated it!
Q: How long did it take you to come around?
A: (laughs) I’m still coming around! No, it’s weird because I definitely love what I’m doing. I love being able to come in and work hard… what I like about swimming now is you work hard for your block and then the feeling of achievement that you get after it. It’s not so much that I love swinging my arms around in a pool! There’s such a good atmosphere here with all the people I train with, I just love coming in with some of my best mates who’ll be my best mates forever, and we get to achieve so much together.
Q: When did you start to think of swimming as something you could do competitively?
A: I got into swimming a bit more and started racing, but obviously up in North Queensland you don’t get to race other disabled people. When I started getting into it more seriously, when I was around eleven or twelve, I started competing against people with the same disability and I think that kind of sparked something. It was like ‘oh these people are the same as me, I’m not trying to be competitive with people with two legs that are smashing me all the time, this is cool, I get to race people that have the same impairment’. So I guess that’s kind of where I started looking at it not as ‘oh I have to go to swimming training’, I found a new way of looking at it I guess.
Q: When did you compete in your first competition?
A: I would have been about … I’d only been swimming for about half a year or so I think and my coach at the time, Pat Wright in Mackay, she told me…. well they have the Mackay carnival, and they’re like ‘oh come along do some races’ and I only raced myself because I didn’t want to race some of the boys I was training with, they had two legs and were super fast and so I raced myself. I think I was about nine, and it made me feel really good about myself because I won like five gold medals or something because I was just racing myself. But I think that was her way of getting me into it more… and a couple of medals made me want to win a couple more.
Q: Your family moved from Mackay to the Sunshine Coast for your swimming – is that right?
A: Basically it was because the program was here and the coaching and all the facilities and stuff, the gym, the pool, all that sort of stuff. Mum and Dad were obviously good enough to help me out and we made the move down pretty much just for the swimming.
Q: You’re remarkably relaxed about your achievements – is it fair to say you don’t buy into being under pressure?
A: Yeah, no. In Rio I guess I was a bit nervous – first ever Paralympics swim. But literally after the first one I was fine and I was walking out and I was loving life. Even Commonwealth Games, I qualified second for the final and obviously there was a bit of pressure there… you know, you’re in the medal position here, but I knew there were four other people in the race that have all beaten me before. And so I was sitting in the marshalling chatting away, just talking, and walked out and just… I don’t know. I just really I just go with the flow.
It’s more stressful making the team. Once you’re there you’re like ‘Right. This is what I train for. I trained to be at these meets and to be able to do this as my job’. So once you’re there, yes, there’s always that element of ‘I’ve got a job to do’ but also I think it’s very important to enjoy it. I guess I’ve never been one for the party or anything anyway for afterwards. And that’s what everyone says when I say ‘oh you’ve got to be there to enjoy it,’ everyone’s like ‘oh he goes out, he parties,’ but yeah that’s not what I mean by enjoy it. I mean you’ve got to be able to look back on it and remember exactly what the crowd was like, remember what the team atmosphere was like and all that sort of thing.
Q: Can you talk a bit more about Rio as a general experience?
A: It was unreal. We had seven guys (from) here there. Three of us were the younger ones in the group and we were all like, best mates, so it was cool. We were with each other the whole time over there, seeing all this stuff together, it was unreal. We had three of the older guys, they had already been to a couple of games, and we were all in the same squad and the same training group.
At the time Jan (Cameron) was my coach and she had so much experience. We were prepped to the best any of us had ever been prepped before, but at the same time it wasn’t like the younger ones were there… we were just there to experience it kind of thing, you know, when you go to your first one (Paralympics) they put a lot of emphasis on ‘just experience it’. I was always told when I went in for my race, have a look at the crowd, listen to them and get a vibe for how it all works.
Q: You’ve done a bit of travelling now for swimming. Do you enjoy it?
A: I never travelled overseas before swimming. We used to do always do family holidays, road trips around places, but we never went overseas. My first overseas trip was the year of the Paralympics, so 2016. I went to Berlin, and before we went to America then Rio, so that was my first overseas experience and ever since then every year I’ve gone overseas somewhere so it’s been pretty cool. I don’t really like flying though – I would much rather drive.
Q: Do you have a favourite spot you’ve competed during your career?
A: Rio was pretty awesome, but in saying that the Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games) was also just as good because it was here and my family was in the crowd. Mum and Dad were in Rio too, but my brother and sister got to come to the Commonwealth Games. The local crowd was awesome. I won a medal there and that was my first ever medal and I got to walk around… like they call it a lap of honour… once you get your medal you literally just do a lap of the pool waving at everyone and it’s so cool.
Q: How does it make a difference having a tight-knit training squad help when you may not be having a the best day?
A: I’ve been lucky that I’ve always trained with that group of boys and if you were down and out they’d rev you! You’re not always going to be swimming great but as long as you’re putting in 100%. Obviously sometimes when you get young swimmers that might not think that, you know, their heart is not all there… you’ve just got to try and give them a bit of encouragement.
Q: So what do you like to do in your (very limited) spare time?
A: In the spare time I have I love camping and four-wheel driving. I’ve always been an outdoor person and I love being able to go out, whether it be with some mates or my girlfriend, and set up a campfire and just chill out or whatever. I just really enjoy that because with swimming, it’s really hard to have a hobby because you’re not allowed to have stuff that’s going to injure you outside the pool. I used to really like riding my dirt bike, obviously that’s not a good mix with swimming! So yeah I’ve moved into the camping. It’s good, if anything I come back feeling more refreshed after going camping.
Q: Good for the soul I suppose?
A: Yeah, that’s what they reckon.
Q: You have a really refreshing attitude to your success as an elite swimmer. Do you feel grateful for the opportunities swimming has given you?
A: I never thought I was going to be in a position like this. Growing up on a cane farm in Mackay, like, just riding my dirt bike on the weekends and jumping into lakes and stuff, I never thought I was going to be in this position. I don’t want to take it for granted, because I feel like before I know it, I won’t be walking in here everyday, seeing my three best mates, travelling all around the world. Before I know it I’ll be in a job, I’ll be in the next phase of my life and I’ll always look back and be like, these were the times where… I was having a great time.
Q: Have you thought about at what point you might finish swimming competitively?
A: Swimming is a very… you know you’ve got to be committed and you’ve gotta work hard otherwise you’re not going to make teams and you’re not going to get better – that’s just how it is. But for me, it’s when I stop enjoying it. When I stop enjoying the feeling of working hard for three months and then racing and I don’t enjoy the whole cycle – I don’t know how to explain it. Enjoy the working hard, feeling fit, being fit, racing, touching the wall going ‘I’ve worked my ass off for that time and I did what I wanted to do’. When that feeling stops… obviously you can’t swim forever and I definitely don’t see myself swimming forever because I’m also excited for something after swimming. I’ve always said I was very fortunate to go to Rio and so I’ve always said 2020 (the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan) is the next goal and then re-evaluate after 2020.
It’s just around the corner.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who might be considering becoming an elite athlete in their chosen sport?
A: Well you’re, only going to be young once, so you’re only going to be able to give it a go once. You’re only going to have one opportunity to do this sort of thing – so just give it a go.