Paralympic swimming star Bethany Firth has praised a former PE teacher who helped her overcome a fear of water as a child.
The Co Down athlete said her career as a nine-times Paralympian medal winner may never have happened without Longstone Special School teacher Jerome Starrs.
She recounted how she had been left “terrified” of the water after a family holiday to Australia when she was just four years old.
After falling into a pool and having to be rescued by a lifeguard, the frightening experience left her traumatised, before her teacher turned things around.
She shared the story as nominations open for this year’s SportMaker awards, which recognise the unsung heroes behind Northern Ireland’s sporting successes, from coaches to officials and volunteers.
Bethany said: “As a child I had a fear of water but thanks to my PE teacher Mr Starrs, who encouraged me to swim, now I have nine Paralympic medals.”
Encouraging others to nominate their own SportMaker, she appeared in a new video alongside previous winner Jahswill Emmanuel, Tomasz Rzonca and Lee Campbell.
Jahswill, who won the SportMaker Volunteer of the Year award in 2020, said: “I think there are so many valuable people throughout our clubs who are very worthy of recognition.
“I was delighted to win the award in 2020. So I would urge anyone who knows someone deserving of a SportMaker award to make a nomination.”
Sport NI chief executive Antoinette McKeown added: “Our SportMaker Awards acknowledge the work of our sporting workforce and highlight the outstanding people and projects that have made a big impact over the last year.
“We know there are many unsung sporting heroes out there who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help enrich people’s lives through the power of sport.
“These fantastic awards give us all the opportunity to recognise the work they do for our communities, clubs, and members. If you know a SportMaker we want to hear about it.”
Nominations are open now until July 24, with 12 award categories across all areas from grassroots to high performance.
To make a nomination, visit www.sportni.net/sportmaker/