PARALYMPIC COACH PROFILE; Louise Sauvage (Athletics – Australia)
Sauvage is often regarded as the most renowned disabled sportswoman in Australia. She won two gold medals and a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic games in front of a home crowd. At the 2004 Olympic Games, she finished 3rd in the demonstration sport of Women’s 1500 m wheelchair. She participated in the 2004 Summer Paralympics, where she took silver in both the 400 metre and 800 metre races. She has won four Boston Marathons, and holds world records in the 1500 m, 5000 m and 4×100 m and 4×400 m relays. She was Australian Female Athlete of the Year in 1999, and International Female Wheelchair Athlete of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
Sauvage, whose father is from the Seychelles and mother is from Leicestershire, was born with a severe congenital spinal condition called myelomeningocele, which inhibits the function of the lower half of the body, giving limited control over the legs. In 1976 she was Perth’s Telethon Child as part of a Channel 7 fund-raiser for children with disabilities. She used calipers to help walk until she received her first wheelchair. Her myelomeningocele required her to have 21 surgical operations by the time she was ten years old. As a preteen, Sauvage suffered scoliosis, and at 14, she had surgery to fix a curvature in her spine, using steel rods. The operation was only partially successful, and as an adult, she still has a curve of roughly 49 degrees.She has not had any subsequent surgery to fix the curve in her spine.
Sauvage was born in Perth, Western Australia and grew up in Joondanna, Western Australia, where she attended Hollywood Senior High School before leaving to complete a TAFE course in office and secretarial studies. Her parents encouraged her to participate in sport from a very young age. She started swimming when she was three years old, with her parents enrolling her in swimming classes to help her build upper body strength. Sauvage started to compete in wheelchair sport at the age of eight. Before that time, she had attempted to play school sport with her class mates but her disability made it difficult. She took up competitive wheelchair racing when she was 15. Sauvage also tried wheelchair basketball as a youngster.
After her retirement from competition, she became involved in coaching young wheelchair athletes, establishing a foundation to help support children with disabilities in 2001. In 2004, Sauvage started coaching other wheelchair athletes. The first athlete that she coached was Angie Ballard. Sauvage’s coaching helped Ballard win gold 400 m and silver in the 100 m, 200 m, 800 m and 1500 m at the Summer Down Under Series in 2005.
Sauvage has attended several international competitions as a coach. She was an athletics coach with the Australian team 2008 Beijing Games and 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships. She is currently Wheelchair Track & Road Elite Development Coach at the New South Wales Institute of Sport.