Liesl Tesch was one of the most decorated and respected members of the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team when she retired to begin a new career in Para-sailing in 2011. Impressed with her performance in the 2008 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, Beijing 2008 silver medallist Daniel Fitzgibbon contacted her about a potential move to sailing and they began training together in early 2011.
Steeling themselves for a dogfight at the London 2012 Games, Liesl and Daniel stunned their competition with a gold medal-winning performance of 14.0, claiming Australia’s first ever in that event at a Paralympic Games and securing them the APC’s Paralympic Team of the Year award with wheelchair rugby team the Steelers.
Following London, they won gold at the 2014 and 2015 IFDS World Disabled Sailing Championships and bronze in 2016, and at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games they placed first in eight and second in three of their 11 races to become the first team in history to win back-to-back gold in the 2-person keelboat.
When Liesl was 19-years-old, she was riding home on her mountain bike when she somersaulted forward and landed on her bottom. By herself and unable to move, she was eventually found by a nurse. After six weeks in hospital Liesl regained feeling in her legs, and following two months of intensive rehabilitation she was able to stand up.
It was around this time that she discovered wheelchair basketball. Vice-captain of the Gliders at Athens 2004 and captain at Beijing 2008, Liesl helped lead the Gliders to silver medal victories at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, and bronze at Beijing 2008.
Liesl says that she is proud to have had the opportunity to compete for professional wheelchair basketball teams in Madrid, Sardinia and Paris, and that these are some of her greatest achievements to date.
The inaugural winner of the Uncle Kevin Coombs Medal for the Spirit of the Games, Liesl believes that her disability has given her the opportunity to encourage participation in Para-sport, and in 2011 she co-founded Sport Matters, a charity that aims to teach aid organisations how to use sport and sport organisations how to use aid and development.
Already employed as a high school teacher, Liesl is currently completing a master’s degree in special education so that she can teach youths with intellectual disabilities. She loves to teach her students about diversity by using her Paralympic experience as a case study, and is proud to have won a medal at every Games for which they have been alive.
In 10 years’ time Liesl hopes to be sailing around the world with her partner, organising sailing programs for athletes with a disability living in developing countries.