Liesl shares her experiences as a wheelchair basketball player, sailor and politician.
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[Title on screen reads, ‘Liesl’s Story’]
[Red-haired Liesl is in her office]
Yeah, hi, I'm Liesl Tesch. I'm currently the Member for Gosford in the NSW Parliament. I live in beautiful Woy Woy and I'm really proud to be able to tell my story and it's an interesting story and who would've thought that I would be here?
Two days after my last exam in second year I was riding my bicycle home from a friend's place. I swerved over to the wrong side of the road. My bike hit the gutter and I, they think, somersaulted over the handlebars and landed in an old lady's driveway, down about two metres, parallel to the road, probably on my bottom and all the vertebrae in my back went... and one shattered into my spinal cord, so my first memory at 19 is when I woke up about two weeks later off the painkillers to be told that I'd be in hospital for six months, I'd be in bed for at least two months and I was never going to walk again. It took me a long time. I got up, I had a big brace on for about six months, went back to uni in a chair.
They said, "You've got to stay in hospital for six months." I said, "No way. I’m getting out. I'm going back to uni." So I went back to uni in a chair in 1989 which was pretty revolutionary and not much access going on there but the University of Newcastle was great at accommodating me being able to be included and made some adjustments.
When I was in hospital, a whole bunch of wheelchair basketball players came through to talk to other people in the ward and one of them was a modern, capable woman in a wheelchair who said, "Would you like to try wheelchair basketball?" and at that stage no-one even knew what the Paralympics were or what wheelchair basketball was but as a representative at school and university, state level representative basketball player, I'm like, "Pff, absolutely give it a go." As part of my rehab in hospital I used to do all the training with my legs dragging, my limp legs, up between parallel bars but also lots of training, my strength training, to get the basketball up and running and one of the early memories there is actually heading out to the basketball stadium at Mount Druitt and seeing people in wheelchairs going fast and having fun and they had cars and lives and girlfriends and jobs and it was just, "Life is going to be possible," because back then we actually didn't see people with disabilities so much out in society and society wasn't as accessible as it is today. So that was the hook and there were some amazing, talented women in that group and that was a love for me and I fell into the NSW team. We then worked together to set up an Australian Women's Wheelchair or National Women's Wheelchair Basketball League, which is still going strong and I think that, to me, was, "OK, life is possible." The wheelchair basketball's been an amazing journey. That was, like, Barcelona in 1992, we came seventh out of eight.
[During a basketball game, Liesl in her wheelchair and wearing her Australian uniform, has the ball. Her USA opponent is next to her]
[At the 2000 Olympics, Liesl with green hair, pokes out her tongue]
We came fourth in Atlanta. Sydney 2000, in front of our friends and family, and for the first time ever, the Paralympics played in front of packed houses, it was absolutely amazing, and Sydney stamped a legacy on the future of the Paralympic movement and also on the access in the city. And there we got a silver medal in front of friends and family which was just fantastic. Sailors with disABILITIES sent me an email saying, "Would you like to try out for the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race?" I'm like, "No way, that's dangerous. People get killed." And it's all about the marketing. "Would you like to go for a twilight sail "on a 54-foot yacht on Sydney Harbour?" And if ever you get the opportunity to go sailing it's amazing and Sailors with disABILITIES is a dedicated group of incredible volunteers that take people with disabilities sailing all the way up the east coast of Australia. They are down in Tassie, they're in Melbourne and then they sail up to Queensland and take kids, adults, with disabilities sailing. One of the Paralympic sailors saw a documentary of us sailing to Hobart and he gave me a call and said, "Liesl, would you like to try sailing one of these Paralympic boats?" I'm like, "Wow, that's pretty amazing but I'm a basketballer but I'll give it a crack." So I went down and I read the book on how to trim the jib, which is the little sail at the front, and I went to meet Dan Fitzgibbon at the wharf and I went to shake Dan's hand and Dan's a quadriplegic and I'm like, "Oh, my goodness, I'm gonna be trimming more than the jib!"
[Dan and Liesl competing for Australia at London 2012 onboard a small sailing boat]
So Dan is amazing. He gets strapped into, like, a racing car chair and gets his two hands strapped to two carbon fibre steering poles. He steers the boat and I was then on a seat in the middle of this little boat in front of Dan with 17 ropes to pull to trim the three sails on the boat, including the beautiful big Australian flag spinnaker. We went for our sail, came back, and I'm like, "Oh, my God, this is amazing." Fitzy said, "Teschi, what are you doing next week? "Do you want to come to Miami?" I'm like, "Oh, my goodness, of course I do." So I chucked it on the credit card and we went off to Miami and we won our first three regattas and came home, went back to wheelchair basketball training because that's what I did at the Institute of Sport. And one of the coaches called me upstairs and says, "Liesl, you've got an opportunity to have a crack at this sailing." And I retired from the Gliders with a really heavy heart and still a beautiful sisterhood with the girls and put my hand up to have a go at Paralympic sailing which led to a gold in London and a gold in Rio.
[Dan and Liesl wearing their London 2012 Gold medals]
My message to women with disabilities out there is to keep going hard. Don't be knocked back. There are challenges along the way, there's going to be lots of setbacks but we need to continue to get up and fight the good fight. We can't blame our disabilities and not push through those barriers. We need to teach Australia that, regardless of our disabilities, we can do whatever we want to do.
[Text on screen reads, ‘Watch more stories at Our Site oursite.wwda.org.au’]
[The logo for Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA)]