The Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast last week were hailed as an example of inclusiveness with more para-athletes competing for medals than in any other previous Games.
The story behind many para-athletes is often one of resilience. When the chips are down many of these athletes show the steely resolve to bounce back. That could be bouncing back from injury, setback, heartbreaking loss or in some cases near fatality.
One example is the story of Eliza Ault-Connell who won silver in the wheelchair marathon, twelve years after last wearing the green and gold for Australia in Melbourne in 2006.
Eliza’s story of resilience started way back when she was 16 years of age. Up to that point, she was an active teenager participating in netball and basketball. Her world was turned upside down when her mother discovered a rash all over her body when she was curled up in bed with a fever that wouldn’t subside.
Her mother identified the rash as meningococcal immediately and Eliza was rushed to the hospital. When Eliza woke up in hospital, her parents told her that her legs had been amputated.
Recently in an interview with the ABC Eliza reflected on that moment. She said,
"People look at the outcome that I had both my legs and some of my fingers amputated but I was very fortunate to be quickly diagnosed.”
That’s resilience. Under extreme duress, she was already bouncing back from a monumental setback.
The decision to amputate her fingers was her own as she weighed up the doctor's advice about the risk of reinfection. This all at the tender age of 16 years.
One moment you’re a healthy young teenager, then the next minute you are fighting for your life and coping with a double-leg amputation and some fingers to boot.
Eliza decided to turn her focus towards a goal and found para-sports. She found instant success and within a year she was breaking records in athletics, running on prosthetic limbs. Some of those records still stand today.
Another setback was to come through as her new-found pursuit would cause intense swelling where her leg was amputated because of the extreme pressure on a bone in her stump and the prosthesis when running.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Eliza chose a new path in athletics, this time, racing in a wheelchair. Of course, it’s no surprise that for this overachiever, instant success followed and within a few years she was representing Australia at the Paralympics setting more records.
What a way to turn the corner!
Her early career culminated in winning silver in the 800m at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games after which was she retired and started a family.
That’s a sure sign of resilience. Changing course and soldering on when things don't go your way.
Two years ago, with another home Commonwealth Games just around the corner, Eliza who is director of Meningococcal Australia, decided to come out of retirement and race in the green and gold once again.