World’s best Paralympic sailors support International Day of People with Disability

by Daniel Smith - ISAF

The world’s best Paralympic sailors are behind the International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) at the Para World Sailing Championships being held out of Williamstown’s premier sailing venue, the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.

Paralympic gold, silver and bronze medallists are leading the charge in Williamstown with 136 sailors from 31 nations showing their support for the United Nations sanctioned day (3 December) that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being.

Each and every one of the 136 sailors has their own unique story to tell and through the power of sailing, have broken down the barriers, lived their dreams and all of this, on the wild arena of Melbourne’s Port Phillip.

London 2012 Paralympic gold medallists and Australia’s very own Dan Fitzgibbon (Pittwater, Sydney) and Liesl Tesch (Woy Woy, Central Coast) are on the verge of taking another world championship on their home waters in the two person SKUD18.

Fitzgibbon and Tesch have overcome personal battles after life changing incidents but as they sought out greatness, they delivered.

Fitzgibbon suffered serious spinal injuries in 1997 which left him a quadriplegic. With Olympic aspirations in advance of his injury, Fitzgibbon swiftly moved into the Paralympic pathway as he explained, “I was a sailor before my accident and I was sailing the 420 and 470s, Sabot and all the way through. I was living the Olympic dream and I wanted to go to the Olympics.

“I was competing in Sail Sydney in 1997 and I had an accident at one of the yacht clubs there during the regatta and I had to change my focus from the Olympic dream to the Paralympic dream.

“It took a bit of time but we found a way in and developed the boat with seating and steering so I could sail the Paralympic boats. I continued my dream in a little bit of a different direction.”

Fitzgibbon ventured into his Paralympic campaigning with a clear vision and started in the right way by winning gold in the Hansa Liberty class at the 2004 IFDS Single-Person Dinghy World Championship (Class A).

“Setting a goal is what I have always done,” explained Fitzgibbon. “I think if someone with a disability has a goal just go out and do it. Just start and get experience and enjoy it. It’s important to enjoy sailing and surround yourself with good fun people and go out and do it. It can take a long time but be patient. I’ve been sailing all my life and it’s taken me a long time to get any good.”

Fitzgibbon was certainly good four years on from the 2004 IFDS Worlds as he achieved his dream at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games where he won silver in the SKUD18 with Rachael Cox. Four years later he realised the ultimate, by taking a convincing victory at London 2012 with Tesch.

Much like Fitzgibbon, Tesch changed course to be involved with Paralympic sailing but it wasn’t the first time she had flown the Australian flag, “I first represented Australia in wheelchair basketball when I was 20-years-old in France,” commented Tesch. “Five Paralympics in basketball later I got a gold medal in sailing from London 2012.”

Tesch competed at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 in wheelchair basketball, winning silver in 2000 and 2004 and bronze in 2008. A golden shine was missing from her cabinet but a chance spot by Fitzgibbon gave Tesch a fantastic opportunity to go for gold.

“I broke my back in a push bike accident when I was 19 and I played wheelchair basketball for five Paralympics,” said Tesch. “I was then invited to do the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race where Dan Fitzgibbon, Paralympic silver medallist in Beijing, spotted this wheelchair basketballer heading to Sydney and gave me a call.

“And now, here I am,” smiled Tesch.

Fitzgibbon and Tesch have formed a strong bond and have remained unbeaten since London 2012 and with three races remaining at the Para World Sailing Championships that run looks like it will continue.

About the International Day of People with Disability

International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is held on 3 December each year.

IDPwD is a United Nations sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate the achievements and contributions of people with disability.

The Australian Government has been supporting IDPwD since 1996 and provides funds to promote and raise awareness of the day around Australia.

Information on how individuals and organisations can get involved in the day and how to break down barriers (both structural and attitudinal) for people with disability can be found on this website - http://www.idpwd.com.au/




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