A Q&A with Liz Gosper, Head Coach & Founder of IST
Sports is an important vehicle for improving people’s physical and mental health. According to a wealth of research, the benefits of participating in sports for our well-being are insurmountable. Active people tend to have better emotional and psychological health, greater self-esteem, improved social skills, and the ability to forge a stronger sense of self, and this is no exception for people with intellectual disabilities.
Liz Gosper discusses the vision behind Inclusive Sports Training (IST), how it prepares people with an intellectual disability to participate in mainstream sporting competitions, and why Phuket is their ideal triathlon training destination.
Q: Why is it important for people with intellectual disabilities to partake in sports, and why triathlon in particular?
A: I have done triathlons for over 30 years and decided - with my knowledge in the area - that it was a great way to get students fit and healthy with vigorous training that challenges them. Statistics demonstrate that people with an intellectual disability are four times more likely to suffer mental health issues and to be overweight. IST helps keep the friends together once they have left school. Triathlon is a newer sport, and our state body is very inclusive and works with us to create the same competition pathways as everyone else.
Q: How did Inclusive Sports Training start?
A: IST began as an activity for school-age children with special needs outside school hours. In 2013 I was teaching at a school for students with a mild intellectual disability. School Sports Victoria offered a competition for Multiclass athletes to participate in. The idea was to add training time so the athletes could become competent in swimming, biking and running. It has gone from one session per week to 7 sessions per week.
Q: What is the main goal of Inclusive Sports Training?
A: The aim is for athletes to train with like-minded peers with coaching from specialist teachers and coaches. Then if they wish, they can compete in mainstream events that may or may not have a Multiclass category.
Q: Why did you choose Thailand as a training destination?
A: I had been to Thanyapura many times and participated in the Triathlon programs, which I loved. It is the perfect location, a very safe resort with an inclusive culture and warm weather.
Q: What has the experience of training in Phuket been like?
A: We absolutely love coming to Phuket. Thanyapura has excellent coaches and facilities, and the food is also healthy, which is very important. We have built great relationships with the staff and continued with Vigeo Sports. Laguna is the perfect place for dinners and shopping, and we have been to Phuket so many times that the athletes and parents feel like the whole place is 'home'.
Q: What is the IST community like?
A: IST has over 70 athletes from 7 years to 49 years. I employ 14 coaches, and parents are also very involved. We have regular dinners, and weekly competitions in Triathlon, Cross Country Running, and Road and Track Cycling. We also have a master's IST Swimming Club. Once the athletes are sufficiently skilled, the aim is to compete in Mainstream competitions. There are beginner athletes and also elite athletes who compete in National and International competitions.