Paralympic hero Michael McKillop hopes his success will inspire a generation of young people to get into sport and perhaps become elite athletes themselves.
The 22-year-old thrilled a global audience with his sporting prowess last month in London, but yesterday was a chance for the people of Newtownabbey to welcome home their man.
Thousands of people, at venues across the borough, clapped and cheered, car horns blared and well-wishers shouted messages, such as “Go on lad” as the athlete held his two gold medals aloft.
The sportsman, who has cerebral palsy, has been overwhelmed by the support he has received from people since winning gold in the T37 800 metres and 1,500 metres, at the Paralympics.
He didn’t know about the police-escorted bus tour, organised by Newtownabbey Borough Council, until four days ago, but was delighted to have the opportunity to share the experience with his friends, family and girlfriend Laura McBurney.
“You always see football players whenever they win the premier league getting an open-top bus, so this is my equivalent,” Michael said. “It’s nice to be going through Newtownabbey, where I’m from.
“It’s about inspiring people. I do my part with the running and going to speak to kids is also something I really enjoy.”
Setting a new world record time of 1:57.22 in the 800 metres was a special moment for Michael, as was being presented with the Whang Young Dai Achievement Award, recognising him as the athlete who best embodies the Paralympic spirit.
His grandmother Anne Boyle was overcome with emotion when she witnessed the reception her grandson received at his old primary school, Saint MacNissi’s.
His grandfather Gerry Boyle said: “We are all so proud of him.”
The pupils, joined by their counterparts from Mossley PS across the road, screamed and cheered “Michael, Michael” as they waved Team McKillop banners.
Inside, posters proclaiming “You’re The Best”, gold medals fashioned from paper and portraits of him were everywhere.
As proud mum, Catherine McKillop watched on, she said: “I can’t believe it’s our wee Mick.”
Michael’s father and trainer, Paddy, said Team McKillop is aiming for Rio 2016, as their son will still be only 26, but for the moment “staying healthy is the main priority”.
As Michael made his way back to a reception at Mossley Mill he reflected on his day.
“It’s been brilliant to see everyone come out and to go back to my primary school and the hospice,” he said.