Amy Huges,

Does the name Adam Clayton Powell sound familiar? There are several reasons it might.

In the world of collegiate swimming, Adam Powell is the defending Ivy League champion in both the 50 and 100 freestyle. A senior political science major, Powell has his eye on retaining his Ivy League crowns at the conference meet on March 3-5 at Blodgett Pool in Cambridge, Mass.

“So far, this season has been pretty much like last season,” Powell said. “I’ve been undefeated in the 50 and the 100. I learned a lot going to NCAAs last year. I qualified 17th and it was my first time going there. The NCAA meet is one of the best meets in the world and it can be even faster than the Olympics when you think about how much talent is on the deck.

“Last year as a junior, I didn’t swim as well as I wanted to, but I was just happy to have another year. I learned a lot and I’m doing some things differently this season to prepare for the 2011 Championships in March.”

Powell did not focus on swimming until a relatively late age.

“When I was in middle school and high school, I’d play tennis in the spring and basketball on AAU teams (in the summer),” Powell said. “For a lot of swimmers, it’s their only sport and that’s what they do year-round. I always wanted to take that break in the summer whether it was traveling or playing another sport, whatever I had going on at the time.

“A lot of people who go year-round starting in middle school get burned out when they get to college. Those guys have been doing it for so long that they’ve probably learned a lot that I’m just starting to pick up on myself. Once I catch up in that respect, I’m really excited for what I can do." 

Powell had a large number of schools knocking on his door during the recruiting process, and eventually the Bedford, N.Y., native chose to stay close to home at Columbia.

“I made up my mind at one point that I wanted to go Ivy,” Powell said. “I thought that if I went to an Ivy League school, I could achieve the same goals I wanted to (reach) and could compete in swimming without sacrificing my academics at all. Some people believe that going to a big-time state school with all the resources is the only way to achieve your true potential and I don’t believe that to be the case. I wanted to be able to do both, not just focus on swimming.”

Powell certainly has not focused exclusively on swimming at Columbia, although he does have his eye on a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.

Columbia Athletics
Powell won two Ivy League titles in 2010.

Powell grew up in a politically-infused environment.

His father, Adam Clayton Powell IV, was a member of the New York State Assembly from 2001 to 2010, giving up his seat in the 68th District to (unsuccessfully) run for U.S. Congress last year, challenging Charles Rangle.

If you follow the Powell family tree back another generation, you find Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the first person of African-American descent elected to Congress from New York. Powell Jr. served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1945 to 1971, and is the namesake of both the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in New York City and a portion of Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, a few blocks away from where his grandson attends classes at Columbia.

“I have an interest in politics, but I don’t have any interest in becoming a politician,” Powell said. “A lot of the subject material really interests me, but politics is not a field I would consider.”

When asked about his family’s rich political history, Powell admits a particular interest in a class he took at Columbia last semester.

“I just finished Intro to 20th Century African-American Political Thought,” Powell said. “It was a seminar for my major and covered a lot of African-American political figures during the 20th century. It was nice to get some insight and background into what was going on at the time. When I was in high school, I did some projects and wrote some papers on my grandfather; never anything too extensive, but I definitely was aware of his accomplishments and his legacy is definitely one of my biggest motivations for anything that I do.”

With his final competitions as a collegiate student-athlete concluding in the next few weeks, Powell’s immediate focus is on defending his Ivy League titles, making an impact at the 2011 NCAA Championships at the end of March and training for the 2012 Olympic Games.

“Ivys are less of a focus for me this year than NCAAs,” Powell said. “I wouldn’t come back another year just to do the same thing again. Obviously, you set the bar higher. Last year, I won the (Ivy League) 50 and the 100 (freestyle), so this year I want to take it to the next level and that would be at NCAAs.”

When asked what’s next after graduation, Powell has a plan.

“I’d like to take it one step at a time and making the Olympics versus not making it are two very different paths,” Powell said. “The more I start to think about ‘Plan B,’ the less optimistic I start to feel about making the Olympics. I just take it one step at a time. That’s still really far off for me. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

No matter where that bridge takes Powell, he is ready to make the best of the situation.

“I think when you get in any environment, you have to adapt to the situation,” Powell said. “At Columbia, for example, we have an 8-lane, 25-yard pool. Some schools have 50-meter long-course pools and you can do various things. They may have more equipment, but I make the time. I stay after practice and work on things I need to work on. I stay after in the weight room. I make the time to do what I think is necessary for me to reach the level that I want.

“I’m not going to say ‘Oh well. If we don’t have this, I should give up and not even think about getting to this point because these other guys all have this and I don’t have it.’ I’ve learned a lot since I was a freshman and I have adapted to my situation.”

Powell’s combination of athletics and academics has certainly worked for him. He may not have all the best bells and whistles at his disposal, but he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I don’t regret it for one second. I’m very happy at Columbia,” Powell said.