The story of our sailing Paralympic heroes
Aussie sailors are blitzing the Paralympic sailing this year, with Dan Fitzgibbon and partner Liesl Tesch defending their title in the SKUD18 class.
The sailing duo achieved this feat with 2 races left on the cards, ending the second-last day with 8 first places and 2 seconds – a near perfect record.
Here’s what else you should know.
If you’ve been following the Paralympic sailing in the media, you would have heard about Fitzgibbon’s chair. Boat maker Tim Lowe designed the state-of-the-art chair for Fitzgibbon, which gives the champion sailor greater dexterity on the water.
The chair is made from carbon, rather than aluminium, and features a ‘sip-and-puff’ rod-steering mechanism, which enables side-to-side maneuverability. Lowe told Yahoo Sports that the chair has tie-down points, which strap Fitzgibbon in.
Funding for the chair was secured in 2010 from the Australian Paralympic Committee.
Lowe had been working with Fitzgibbon for 10 years and saw the difficulty he had switching sides. As a result, the crew had to help turn Fitzgibbon around and push down his hand, which was incredibly hard and time consuming.
The inside of the chair is fitted with sections of carbon fibre, which makes it strong, even if the boat tips or leans. There’s also a half-ton of load to help push Fitzgibbon up.
The chair itself is said to have taken Lowe a decade to design and construct.
A champion in the making
Fitzgibbon (40) is a master-yachtsman who became a quadriplegic at 21 in a jetty accident. Born in Brisbane, Fitzgibbon started sailing at the age of 5. Even after the accident, his sailing expertise continued to grow.
However, he now needed additional support navigating the water. Using his knowledge of boat building Lowe assisted Fitzgibbon by designing a seating system that would enable him to sail.
Fitzgibbon took home silver in the 2008 Summer Paralympics (Beijing), gold in the 2012 Paralympics (London) and now, gold in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
Fitzgibbon received an Order of Australia Medal for his achievements.
A winning partnership
Fitzgibbon’s sailing partner, Liesl Tesch, was featured in an SBS documentary. He made contact with her in 2010, and from then on, the pair formed a formidable sailing duo.
In 2011, the duo won gold at the ISAF World Cup and in July they took home bronze in the IFDS World Championships.
Fitzgibbon told the Sydney Morning Herald:
“She [Tisch] was positive and nothing fazed her and I thought ‘this is what we need’. You need a can-do attitude on the boat, because what we do is not easy.
“I saw these values that I wanted in the boat that were missing at the time and I rang up the Australian Paralympic Committee and said can I have her number, but they said ‘no no you can’t poach people from [other] sports’. But somehow I got her number and gave her a ring and said come sailing. Within three weeks we were racing in Miami at the World Cup event.”
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