Liesl Tesch

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Liesl Tesch
291000 - Wheelchair basketball Liesl Tesch silver medal - 3b - 2000 Sydney medal photo.jpg
Tesch celebrates at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics with her silver medal
Personal information
Nationality  Australia
Born (1969-05-17) 17 May 1969 (age 46)

Liesl Tesch, AM (born 17 May 1969) is an Australian wheelchair basketball player and sailor. She became an incomplete paraplegic after a mountain bike accident at the age of 19. She competed in her national wheelchair basketball team at five paralympics, winning three medals, and was the first woman to play the sport professionally. She took up sailing in 2010, winning a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London.

Early life[edit]

Tesch was born in Brisbane on 17 May 1969.[1] In a 2012 interview, she described her parents as "alternative" and said of her father that he would have rather philosophised than worked "because he didn't like working for a capitalist society. ... We lived off the land as much as we could, eating roadkill." [2] She grew up in Brisbane, New Zealand, and the Lake Macquarie suburb of Coal Point and attended Toronto High School.[3][4] She participated in basketball, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, and cycling as a child,[5] and was part of the state basketball team in year 11 and 12 at high school.[6] At the age of 19, she broke her back after a mountain-bike accident, becoming an incomplete paraplegic.[4] She received a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Education from the University of Newcastle.[5]

Competitive career[edit]

Wheelchair Basketball[edit]

Tesch with the ball during a match at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics
Women competing in wheelchair basketball
Tesch shoots from inside the key in the game against USA at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics

I have no doubt that my life has changed – it's hard to say for the better because of this catastrophe thing – but I definitely take lots of opportunities now because they're there. I think if I would have had this accident in other countries in the world there's a good chance I would have been dead, even, so every day I pack stuff in because I can. I have to have my head on and my mind open.

Liesl Tesch[5]

Tesch started playing wheelchair basketball after one of her physiotherapists noticed how skilled she was at shooting with a foam basketball and perspex backboard during her rehabilitation.[7] Shortly after entering the New South Wales state team, she was invited to try out for and made the Australia women's national wheelchair basketball team in 1990, making her national debut at that year's World Championships[7] and her Paralympic debut at the 1992 Barcelona Games.[8] She was named to the All Star Five at the 1994 Gold Cup, where the Australian team won a bronze medal.[9] She was part of the Australian team at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics,[8] and was named Most Valuable Player at the 1998 Gold Cup.[9] She was the vice-captain of her country's team at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, where she won a silver medal.[6][8] During celebrations after the games, some players from Europe invited her to play in professional men's teams there. She accepted this suggestion, and played in Madrid, Sardinia, and Paris for the next five years, thus becoming the first woman in the world to play wheelchair basketball professionally.[5] She helped establish a women's wheelchair basketball league on the continent and competed in women's teams in Italy and France.[5] She also competed in the silver-medal-winning Australian team at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.[8] She returned home to captain the national squad at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.[5][8] In 2010, Tesch competed with her team in the Osaka Cup, a competition for the top five women's international wheelchair basketball teams in the world; her team defeated the number one ranked American team 55–37.[10] She was a 4 point player.[11] She retired from the national wheelchair basketball squad in 2011 to concentrate on sailing.[2]

She admires Dawn Fraser, describing her as "a fellow bad girl not afraid to speak her mind". At the Beijing Paralympics, she smuggled a turtle that she had bought at a market into the Paralympic village, and christened it "Tibet" After being ordered to remove it.[2] She was famous for dyeing her hair green and gold during her Paralympic wheelchair basketball career.[2]


Tesch and Fitzgibbon receiving the Team of the Year award at the 2012 Australian Paralympian of the Year ceremony

In 2009 Tesch participated in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on Sailors with Disabilities.[2] After seeing an SBS documentary about the journey, Beijing silver medallist Daniel Fitzgibbon contacted her in late 2010 and they formed a sailing partnership.[2] Sailing the two-person SKUD 18 with Fitzgibbon, the team had immediate success, winning gold at the ISAF Gold Cup in January 2011[12] and a bronze medal at the IFDS World Championships in July of that year.[13] They won a gold medal with a race to spare at the London 2012 Paralympic sailing competition held at Weymouth and Portland.[8][14] Tesch's mother had died of cancer after her first day of racing at the games; shortly after winning the gold medal, she said it was "a beautiful way to celebrate my mum's life to win gold on a beautiful sunny day at the Paralympic Games".[4]

At the 2014 IFDS World Championships in Halifax, Canada, Tesch teamed with Fitzgibbon to win the two-person SKUD 18 class .[15]

Personal life[edit]

Tesch works as a high school geography teacher at Brisbane Water Secondary College's Woy Woy campus.[2] In 2010, she co-founded Sports Matters, a charity that promotes sport for people with disabilities in developing countries.[2][16] She lives with her partner, Mark, a boat-builder and frequent competitor in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race; the couple met while preparing for the competition in 2009.[2]


In 2000, Tesch received an Australian Sports Medal.[17] She and Fitzgibbon were jointly named as Sailors of the Year with a Disability in 2011.[18] She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2014 Australia Day Honours "for significant service to sport as a gold medallist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and through the promotion and facilitation of sport for people with disabilities."[19] In November 2014, Tesch shared the Yachting Australia Sailor of the Year with a Disability award with Daniel Fitzgibbon, Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris, Russell Boaden and Matthew Bugg. The Australian team of six sailors beat Great Britain by one point at the IFDS World Championship.[20] Tesch and Fitzgibbon won the 2014 NSW Sports Award for Team of the Year with a Disability.[21]


  1. ^ "Australians at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics: wheelchair basketballers". Australian Sports Commission. Archived from the original on 20 January 2000. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lewis, Daniel (26 August 2012). "At home with Liesl Tesch". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  3. ^ "Residents' stories: Liesl Tesch". MyGosfordTV. 7 March 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Cronshaw, Damon. "A golden tribute from a daughter to her mum". The Newcastle Herald. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Lazarevic, Jade (13 March 2010). "A life less ordinary". The Newcastle Herald. p. 12. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Bright basketballer to hand out lesson". The Newcastle Herald. 16 October 2000. p. 29. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Liesl Tesch". WorkCover Authority of New South Wales. 30 August 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Liesl Tesch's profile on Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Liesl Tesch". Basketball Australia. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Wakefield, Shari (30 April 2010). "Meet the Sydney Uni Wheelchair Flames". Sydney University. Retrieved 9 September 2011. 
  11. ^ "2010 WC Team". Basketball Australia. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  12. ^ Heydon, Craig (29 January 2011). "Gold for Australian Paralympic crew at Miami OCR". Yachting Australia. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  13. ^ "Britain’s Rickham and Birrell to Challenge in Melbourne". International Paralympic Committee. 4 November 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Australia's Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch win SKUD18 gold with a race to spare". International Sailing Federation. 5 September 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  15. ^ "Results". IFDS Worlds 2014 website. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "History". Sport Matters. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  17. ^ "Tesch, Liesl: Australian Sports Medal". It's an Honour. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  18. ^ "Sailor of the Year with a Disability". Australian Sailing Team. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "Australia Day honours list 2014: in full". Daily Telegraph. 26 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "Stellar night for Australian sailing at Yachting Australia Awards 2014". Yachting Australia News. 1 November 2014. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  21. ^ Zillich, Cora (20 February 2015). "Fitzgibbon and Tesch claim top NSW Sports Award for Team of the Year". Sail World. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 

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