Liesl Tesch was one of the most decorated and respected members of the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team when in 2011, she changed sports to begin her new career in sailing. Proving to be just as talented in her new sport, the six-time Paralympian joined forces with Beijing 2008 silver medallist Daniel Fitzgibbon to win the Paralympic gold that had eluded her throughout her career.
From the very beginning, the high profile pairing experienced considerable success, winning their first ever competition in the 2011 World Cup meets in Miami and Weymouth and followed up with bronze in the 2011 World Championships. Capping an amazing first year of sailing for Liesl, she and Daniel were named 2011 Australian Sailors of the Year with a Disability.
At it again at the 2012 World Championships, the pair claimed a bronze medal followed by gold at the ISAF World Cup. Then in London, during a whirlwind Games campaign where Liesl tragically lost her mother following a long illness, the dynamic duo won Australia’s only sailing medal and the first gold since Sydney 2000.
At 19-years-old, Liesl 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 eventually regained some feeling in her legs, and after two months of intensive rehabilitation, found the ability to stand up once again.
It was during rehab that she discovered a love of wheelchair basketball. From the moment she discovered the sport, she knew that with hard work and training, she could one day represent Australia at a Paralympic Games.
Liesl went on to lead the Gliders to silver medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, and bronze at Beijing 2008. She is proud to have had the opportunity to compete for professional teams in Madrid, Sardinia and Paris, some of her greatest achievements to date.
Never one to focus on the negative, she believes her disability has given her the opportunity to encourage participation in Para- sport, and in 2011 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.
Liesl is also a high school teacher, and is completing a Masters in Special Education so that she can teach youths with intellectual disabilities. She loves teaching her students about diversity, using her Paralympic experience as a case study and is proud to have won a medal from every Games that her students have been alive.
In 10 years time, Liesl hopes to be sailing around the world with her partner, setting up sailing programs for people with a disability in developing countries.