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Homecoming for Rio girl Bethany puts Hollywood star Kim Cattrall in the shade

Triple gold-winning swim star Bethany Firth flies back to a rapturous welcome from fans, but her Yorkshire terrier's greeting has them all licked

By Luke Barnes

Paralympics golden girl Bethany Firth arrived home from Rio to a hero's welcome - and even managed to upstage a Hollywood superstar.

With three gold medals draped around her neck, the swimmer was greeted by flashing cameras and eager fans at Belfast City Airport.

But none were more eager then Russell, Bethany's Yorkshire terrier, who rushed through the crowd to jump into her arms.

Bethany said: "I've been away from home for so long and it's been really hard, so to see him again really puts a smile on my face."

She added that she had been "overwhelmed" by the support from fans.

"To come here and see everyone is just amazing and it makes me really emotional - I'm just so thankful for everyone who came out today," Bethany explained.

"There was so much experience over there and I learned a lot, but I can't wait to just get home now and spend some time with my family."

The fanfare for Bethany was such that Sex and the City actress Kim Cattrall was barely noticed when she stepped out of the arrivals gate a few minutes beforehand.

However, Kim tweeted her support for the swimmer, writing: "Such an honour for me to meet and congratulate Bethany Firth today... such an amazing achievement!"

Bethany's fans were full of admiration for the Seaforde girl's achievements and mentality.

Oliver Chambers (15) became friends with Bethany after meeting her at Ards Swimming Club. A swimmer at Campbell College himself, he said: "It's a pretty big inspiration to watch her swim when you're dreaming of doing very similar things.

"You know it's possible when you see someone like Beth doing what she does."

Oliver added that her Paralympic status meant that she and her fellow athletes often had to work much harder then normal athletes for their success and recognition.

"They deserve just as much respect as the normal athlete would get," he said.

Sports Minister Paul Givan, who was at City Airport to welcome Bethany back home, said he was "hugely proud" of her achievements.

"This is someone local who has achieved a success that'll inspire more people to get into the swimming pool and get involved in sport," he added. "It will also send a message to people with disabilities - we support you, we want you to get involved."

Mr Givan said that Team GB's success in the Paralympics was a catalyst for continued investment in sporting opportunities for people with disabilities.

Bethany retained the 100 metre backstroke she had previously won at London 2012 and set a new record time.

She also added golds in the 200 metre freestyle and 200 metre individual medley, as well as clinching silver in the 100 metre breaststroke.

It is a far cry from the 13-year-old girl who was reluctant at first to enter the pool, as her ex-PE teacher Jerome Starrs remembered.

He said: "Her mum actually packed two swimming suits because she thought Beth would hide hers, but we never saw that.

"She climbed into the pool and off she went - she was like a fish. I gave her mum a ring and I said, 'Look, this wee lady can swim. Do you mind if I time her and enter her into a competition?' And then we went from there."

Bethany said that she was looking forward to working more closely with her coaches and that there was no limit to what she could achieve.

For now, however, she added that it was time for her to take a well-deserved break in "sleepland".

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