Tesch celebrates at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics with her silver medal
17 May 1969 |
Liesl Tesch (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 London Paralympics.
Tesch was born in Brisbane on 17 May 1969. 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."  She grew up in Brisbane, New Zealand, and the Lake Macquarie suburb of Coal Point and attended Toronto High School. She participated in basketball, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, and cycling as a child, and was part of the state basketball team in year 11 and 12 at high school. At the age of 19, she broke her back after a mountain-bike accident, becoming an incomplete paraplegic. She received a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Education from the University of Newcastle.
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. 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 and her Paralympic debut at the 1992 Barcelona Games. She was named to the All Star Five at the 1994 Gold Cup, where the Australian team won a bronze medal. She was part of the Australian team at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, and was named Most Valuable Player at the 1998 Gold Cup. She was the vice-captain of her country's team at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, where she won a silver medal. 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. She helped establish a women's wheelchair basketball league on the continent and competed in women's teams in Italy and France. She also competed in the silver-medal-winning Australian team at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. She returned home to captain the national squad at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. 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. She was a 4 point player. She retired from the national wheelchair basketball squad in 2011 to concentrate on sailing.
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. She was famous for dyeing her hair green and gold during her Paralympic wheelchair basketball career.
In 2009 Tesch participated in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on Sailors with Disabilities. After seeing an SBS documentary about the journey, Beijing silver medallist Daniel Fitzgibbon contacted her in late 2010 and they formed a sailing partnership. Sailing the two-person SKUD 18 class with Fitzgibbon, the team had immediate success, winning gold at the ISAF Gold Cup in January 2011 and a bronze medal at the IFDS World Championships in July of that year. They won a gold medal with a race to spare at the London 2012 Paralympic sailing competition held at Weymouth and Portland. 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".
Tesch works as a high school geography teacher at Brisbane Water Secondary College's Woy Woy campus. In 2010, she co-founded Sports Matters, a charity that promotes sport for people with disabilities in developing countries. 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.
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