“I had the Paralympic Games on and my children were watching. I was showcasing what I used to do before they were born,” said Ault-Connell, now also the director of Meningococcal Australia.
“They got excited, so much so my daughter said one day, ‘I want to be a Paralympian.’ I had to break the news to her that she actually had to have a disability.
“It was at that point that she turned to me and said, ‘You know Mum, you used to be so cool when you used to do wheelchair racing.’ That was pretty much a red flag to a bull. I knew immediately then I had to get back to my race chair and show them what I used to be able to do.”
Fortunately the next Commonwealth Games on the calendar was on Australian soil – the Gold Coast early last year – and with the wheelchair marathon one of the events on the schedule, Ault-Connell immediately had her target.
She returned to international competition in style, winning the silver medal after finishing just 13 seconds behind fellow Australian Madison de Rozario.
Ault-Connell, who had both her legs amputated above the knee just two days after contracting the disease aged 16, is well on track to return to the Paralympic stage in Tokyo next year. But first she’ll compete in a range of wheelchair racing distances at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai over the next week.
As a mother of three also juggling a busy job and training commitments, Ault-Connell has to balance her time well.
“My days are pretty book-ended with training, and with work and with children and other commitments now,” she said.
“But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think now being a mother … I’m a far better athlete now in my late 30s than I was in my early 20s because I know how important balance is but at the same time I’m also critically aware of time efficiency.
“I think looking back now on my 20s there was a level of procrastination that occurred. If I had to train I’d say, ‘I’ll do this and I’ll do this first,’ whereas now you don’t get that opportunity when your days are busy.
“You just have to take that opportunity and you have to set your alarm early and you have to get up in the mornings. So that level of drive and desire to do what you do needs to be greater than ever.
“I’m loving the process more than ever.”
Ault-Connell plays a role in mentoring and supporting people who become disabled.
“We also need to consider that there are people in their 20s and 30s who somehow acquire a disability that they’re never expecting to acquire in their life. They wonder how they’re going to get back involved in sport,” she said.
“Being an elite athlete is one thing but I believe that everyone regardless of ability has the right to participate in sport in whatever level.”
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age