I always enjoy going to Rotary Sydney Cove (my sponsor club) meetings for the welcoming people and for the interesting and wide variety of speakers. At the last meeting, it was no different. But this time, I had the added bonus of getting to play at being an Olympic gold medal winner – and believe me, I pretended so hard I almost had myself convinced.
Our most recent speaker was Liesl Tesch, gold medal winner in the Sailing Regatta at the 2012 London Paralympic games. Perhaps most impressively, sailing was a new sport for Liesl and one she picked up only a few years before the Games. Liesl and her sailing partner, Daniel Fitzgibbon, only started sailing together in December 2010 (before the summer 2012 Olympics). Think about that: she learned a new sport in a short time and got so good at it she not only qualified to the Olympics, but won the gold medal. Liesl also has two silver medals and a bronze medal in basketball from the last four Olympics Games. (Talk about a long and incredibly productive sporting career!)
Liesl became paralyzed at age 19 after a bicycling accident. Although she was told she would never walk again, she has gained enough strength to stand and even to walk short distances. I attribute this showing the doctors what’s what to her energetic personality and bubbly spirit. Liesl has been a basketball coach all over the world, but is now a high school teacher on the New South Wales central coast. Her students must love her! But I also bet they leave class exhausted after trying to keep up with Liesl’s intensity.
Liesl’s speech at the Rotary meeting was inspiring. I think most of all, I was impressed by her warmth. When I approached her after the meeting to see if, just maybe, I could get a picture with her, she grabbed her four Olympic medals and said, “Here! Put them on!” I just stared at her like she was nuts. She was going to let me wear her hard-won Olympic medals? Even the gold? Yep – that’s just part of who she is. (Side note: those are heavy medals! You need to be an athlete to be able to hold yourself up if you’re going to wear those medals around for more than a few minutes.)
Once again, Rotary has provided new and life-expanding opportunities. And for Liesl, I just ask, “What are your training tips…?”