Maths teacher brings Olympic skills to the table

Originally published in the August 2016 issue of Australian Teacher Magazine

If you look in the corner of maths teacher David Powell’s whiteboard at Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School, you’ll see one number that doesn’t belong in his equations. Powell’s students have set up a countdown until their teacher jets off to Rio to represent Australia in table tennis at this year’s Olympic Games.

When Powell speaks to Australian Teacher Magazine, that countdown is set to 40 days.

The 25-year-old finished in first place at the Oceania Qualification Tournament in March.

“It was a long time in the coming,” he says. “I just missed out on London so it made this one all the more sweet I guess.”

Powell has lived and competed overseas in Poland, Germany and Sweden but, come August, he will be testing his skill in a different climate. First stop is a one week training camp in Chile; then on to face the world’s best at the games.

With both his parents players themselves, Powell first took to the table as an eight-year-old. “I was pretty hopeless when I started,” he admits.

The Australian table tennis community is still too small to allow for athletes to give up their day jobs – but Powell says he “loves going to work every day” at Strathcona.

“It sort of clears my mind being at work and then I’m able to go and practise.”

Still, he admits balancing his double life as both Olympic athlete and teacher can be “tricky”.

“I’m still trying to train around 15 hours per week on top of that work so it’s a challenge to fit it all in,” he says. “[The school] have been really good in terms of gifting me the time off … I just played the Australian Open and the Oceania Cup and they’ve been flexible with that.”

While Strathcona’s Year 9 heritage campus has no table tennis tables as yet, Powell says that could change soon. If he has his way, a school club may even one day be in the works.

“[The students] are pretty excited,” he laughs.

By Sherryn Groch

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