Rachel fights through the pain barrier to fulfil her pool dreams
For some time now Rachel Bethel has been seen as one of the brightest prospects in Irish swimming, but the past couple of years have been far from easy for the Lisburn teenager.
A member of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games team two years ago at just 14, Rachel has since struggled with a back injury. But that didn't stop the gutsy Wallace High School pupil landing a hat-trick of freestyle titles at the Irish short course championships in the Lagan Valley Leisureplex.
Indeed, Lisburn coach Martin McGann has the 16-year-old, who won 800m, 400m and 200m free gold at the weekend, on a four-year plan to make it to the Olympics in Tokyo.
McGann, who came to the Lisburn club in May, was naturally delighted with Rachel's performances and expects more of the same at the Ulster Open championships in two weeks time.
"I'm very happy with what Rachel has done at these championships and there's a lot more to come from her. I think she has great potential," said McGann, who has been carefully monitoring her back issue as she seeks to perform to her maximum.
"The back problem is an ongoing issue and it is something that we have to manage. When I first came I had a Dublin specialist take a good look at the problem and since then we have had a physio and a strength and conditioning coach from the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland working on it.
"There's an issue about flexibility and at the moment I can see that she can't start as quickly as the other swimmers but once Rachel gets into the water she is swimming faster than the other girls so it's all very encouraging.
"The great thing about Rachel is that she is an out and out racer. She loves competition and the big stage and that is a great quality.
"So it's just a matter of her getting stronger and continuing to work on her skills and then hopefully she will make it to Tokyo in 2020, that's our goal."
The championships saw numerous Ulster swimmers bag medals, with Donegal's Mona McSharry the swimmer of the meet, while there were a number of swimmers who made signifcant breakthroughs.
Rachel's team-mate Daniel Whiffin, 15, landed the 1500m freestyle Irish title and her 13-year-old sister Leah took silver in the 800m free, while Ards Swimming Club have a group of young teenagers bursting with potential.
Ards scooped gold in the 4x50m medley relay and 4x50m freestyle relay with both quartet's featuring 13-year-olds. Scarlett Armstrong landed double gold, while Mia Davison was a member of the medley team and Mady Calvert competed in the free relay.
Scarlett's brother Cai, 17, picked up a bronze in the 50m breast, while Ards clubmate Ellie McKibben, just 12, was fourth in the 400m individual medley, which saw 13-year-old Julia Knox of Banbridge take bronze.
City of Derry's Ciara Doran picked up the women's 1500m gold with fellow 16-year-old Erin McConnell of Ards taking silver.