Northern Ireland Paralympic hero Bethany Firth hopes to be a champion for special school children

Bethany Firth had the best year ever. Dream wedding with her husband Andrew. Dream honeymoon in Southeast Asia. Receive an OBE to add to their MBE and triumph at the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland to complete their medal collection.

he multiple Paralympic swimmer and world champion still has gold medals up for grabs, but this inspiring 26-year-old is also determined to make waves away from the pool and open doors for others through the power of sport,” especially in special schools.

Firth’s sporting history is extraordinary. The Seaforde sensation never forgets how the journey began with swimming lessons when she attended Longstone Special School in Dundonald, overcoming a fear of water as a young girl to climb and step onto the podium everywhere in the world, becoming one of the most famous stars in the country. .

Reflecting on how she was helped as a child, kindhearted Bethany is keen to return that kindness.

Speaking as an ambassador for Lidl’s Sport for Good Schools program in Northern Ireland, the swimmer revealed: “I took some time on my honeymoon to decide what I want to achieve in the future and what I want to do in sport.

“I want to continue because I love racing and I love winning medals, but there’s another side to me that wants to see what doors I can open for others. I’ve been very lucky that people did this for me when I was young, but if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Without my school that pushed me, I would never have gone into swimming because I was afraid.

“It’s been completely life changing for me and I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for people in Northern Ireland, especially in the special schools, to try to get them involved in sport or try something new.

“I was just a little girl from Seaforde and got to travel the world through sport and I feel like we need to open more doors for people here and I would love to help do that. .

“Being on my honeymoon and thinking about what I’ve accomplished also puts into perspective the quality of my family and my team, their support and how they’ve enabled me to do all these things. It really makes me appreciate what I have and all the people around me.

Ahead of the six-week ‘trip of a lifetime’ savoring destinations such as Bali and Thailand with new husband Andrew Fuller, history-making Bethany won the first-ever Commonwealth gold medal in swimming from Northern Ireland to Birmingham, setting the nation on course for its most successful Games. .

It didn’t seem like it at the time, but with typical honesty the Ards Swimming Club member says winning the S14 200m freestyle in August was “one of the most grueling races that I never participated”, stressing that the pressure was on. It should be noted that Firth broke his foot last November and had his shoulder injected in June after shining at the Paralympic World Championships. She’s a badass.

“It was the medal I didn’t have, the one that would complete the collection, and if I didn’t get it, it would be another four years for the next opportunity and you never know if that would happen,” Firth explained. , coached by Nelson Lindsay.

“It was one of my toughest races physically and mentally to make sure everything went well. The race was over in two minutes so you only have that long to make it perfect and anything can be lost for those two minutes.

Thankfully it was won in those two minutes with fans inside the Sandwell Aquatics Center roaring into the popular Firth House.

The crowd included the precious family of Bethany who, due to Covid restrictions, had been unable to travel to Japan the year before to see her win Paralympic Games gold for the third consecutive Games after glory in 2012 and 2016.

Happy at the prospect, Firth said: “Winning Commonwealth Games gold for Northern Ireland meant so much. For me, this year has surpassed them all. It was the year I got married, went on my honeymoon, finally got the full collection of medals and was presented with my OBE.

Further honors could follow next year at the World Para Swimming Championships ahead of the 2024 Paralympic Games with Team GB in Paris.

“Loving swimming and knowing I can’t do it forever makes me want to keep going and do the Paralympics in 2024. If Covid hadn’t arrived and my family had been there cheering in Tokyo, it might have -being been another story, but not having them there made me want to end on a high. I need them to be there and I want to achieve that with them, so I think that’s the big push for 2024,” Bethany said.

When asked if this could be the final competition of a mind-blowing career, she replied, “You never know. I will be 28 then. Getting married and having other priorities, I don’t know. Never say never because every time I touch that wall I could swim for 10 more years. However, it takes a heavy toll on your body and it’s very hard to constantly compete with all the pressure, but I love it.

Bethany, who has learning disabilities that cause her short-term memory loss, also enjoys running her nail business in Bangor.

“I do nails and eyelashes. It’s called Dynamic by Bethany. It’s something really creative and it makes me forget the pressure of the pool. It gives me the opportunity to chat with the girls and do their nails at the same time,” she said with a smile.

“You need that backup away from the pool, especially with sanity. Before, everything for me was swimming and everyone knew me for swimming and it was quite consuming. If that was taken away from me, I felt I would be in real trouble, so we decided to build Bethany away from the pool and see what it would look like.

“I have no qualifications. I tried several times to get GCSEs and never managed to get them. A GB Team Performance Lifestyle Advisor said to me, “Why don’t you go a more creative route?”. I haven’t been able to swim all my life so we were looking for other options and nail business is what I decided to do. I really appreciate it and I’m proud of it. It has grown and grown and I hope it will grow more in the future.

Bethany Firth has much to be proud of. Her spectacular sporting life, her business and the person she is. Seaforde’s best have done great things for the sport in Northern Ireland and there is more to come.

Sports great Bethany Firth has teamed up with Lidl of Northern Ireland for this year’s Sport for Good Schools program which, in partnership with children’s charity Youth Sport Trust, aims to promote positive mental health among secondary school students across Northern Ireland through sport.

Lidl shoppers in Northern Ireland can nominate their local secondary school to win a place in the Sport for Good scheme, along with £1,000 worth of new sports equipment, by visiting their local Lidl store and making a purchase to receive an eligible Lidl receipt containing a 10-digit code. Entries are open until Sunday 16 October and can be made at lidl-ni.co.uk/lidl-community-works.

“It’s an amazing program from Lidl Northern Ireland. Mental health has been really affected during Covid. I know mine was and I think promoting sport in schools and getting kids to try new things and talking about mental health is a wonderful idea,” Bethany said.