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Bethany: I want to inspire kids to follow their dreams

By Steven Beacom

Bethany Firth is chatting about her sporting heroes. The bright and bubbly 20-year-old starts giggling when Tom Daley’s name crops up. The popular World champion diver clearly made an impression on the Paralympic swimming champion from Seaforde when the pair met.

So much so that Bethany was rendered speechless.

“Tom Daley is so lovely,” she says as a beaming smile lights up her face.

“I couldn’t talk very much when I met him because I was so shocked, but he was so lovely and he is brilliant at what he does.”

Firth would also like to meet Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps and the fastest athlete of all time Usain Bolt in the future “because I admire them as well” hoping that she won’t be lost for words if the get togethers ever happen.

Intriguingly though while respecting the achievements of world renowned stars like Daley, Phelps and Bolt, they don’t top her list of sporting favourites.

“I look up to my training buddies most,” says Firth, now a member of the Great Britain squad having won gold at the London 2012 Paralympics while competing for Ireland.

“They really push themselves and try their best which means a lot. They inspire me and are a great bunch to be around. They are a lot of fun and we are always pushing each other on.”

Coaches who have worked with Bethany will tell you she is quite the motivator herself.

This is a young woman who only started swimming aged 13 and has been creating waves ever since.

Just three years later, she entered the hearts of the Northern Ireland public by winning a surprise gold in the 100m backstroke when competing at London 2012.

Prior to that, racing for Team Ireland, Firth, who has a learning disability, took home silver from the IPC European Championships and the year after was runner-up in the 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke and 200m freestyle in the IPC World Championships.

At the end of 2013 the Ards Swimming Club member switched allegiance to Team GB. As she did at the time, Bethany points out that decision was down to ‘personal reasons’ rather than political.

Due to having to wait to become eligible and injuries, Firth has yet to swim on the international stage for GB, though that will change this year at the European Championships in Madeira (April 27-May 8) and the Olympics in Rio in August.

She hopes to race in the 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 200m IM and 100 breaststroke and intends to use the experience gained from competing in multiple individual and relay events for Northern Ireland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to her advantage.

“I learned to swim when I was 13-years-old. I came very late to the sport,” says Bethany.

“I have competed at various events around the world and enjoyed the experience. Every year I seem to surprise myself. I’m a determined person and I like pushing myself. What I really want to do with my swimming is inspire kids to do things that they enjoy.

“You can achieve anything that you want if you put your mind to it. I really believe that and I would say to kids don’t give up on your dreams.”

This is no pre-planned speech. When Firth talks about inspiring others she means it.

The Paralympic champion adds: “I am so excited to be picked to represent GB for the European Championships.

“It’s amazing to be part of the GB team. GB have supported me through so much in the pool and outside the pool they have helped me overcome so many different obstacles that I have faced. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them so I am very grateful.

“I want to compete well at the European Championships and the dream is then to go to Rio and push myself as fast as I can and if that gets me another medal that would be great.”

To that end Bethany is working harder than ever. She is up at 4.15am and starts swimming at 5.30am for two and a half hours. Stretching exercises and a conversation with revered coach Nelson Lindsay follow, before returning home for breakfast.

Then it’s on to the Sports Institute Northern Ireland at Ulster University for gym sessions and physio work before going back to the pool in Newtownards, where she has her own training lane, for an evening session between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

Home time is 7pm, with dinner and bed before the routine starts again the next day. Dedication and talent.

Expect to hear much more about Bethany Firth in the coming months.

National Lottery funding is helping NI athletes like Bethany Firth on their Road to Rio, so they can train full-time and have some of the best coaching, facilities and medical support in the world. It’s not just elite athletes, National Lottery players fund thousands of opportunities for participation at all levels through UK Sport and Sport NI. National Lottery players raise £34million every week.

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