Swimmer Bethany Firth has arrived back in Northern Ireland to a hero’s welcome after topping the Team GB medal table at the Paralympics.
The Co Down athlete landed at Belfast City Airport on Tuesday afternoon sporting the three gold and one silver medal she won in Rio.
Bethany was cheered into the arrivals hall by staff and classmates from the South Eastern Regional College (SERC), coaches and members of Ards Swimming Club and some of the congregation from Comber Baptist Church.
The warmest welcome of all however was from her pet dog Russell who couldn’t hide his delight at being reunited with the 20-year-old.
Addressing the assembled media, Bethany said she was surprised at the level of attention.
“I was so emotional coming through because I didn’t expect this whatsoever, and I really am so thankful to everyone,” she said.
Sporting her Team GB tracksuit, the paralympian even managed to upstage Hollywood and Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall who had arrived in Belfast on the same flight from London.
Bethany said she was delighted to be considered a role model for aspiring young Paralympians.
“I really hope I am,” she said.
“If someone hadn’t started me at such a young age I wouldn’t be here so I just hope I can inspire others. It’s a great sport and it brings you so much joy and you get to meet so many people.”
Ards head coach Nelson Lindsay said Bethany would take a few weeks rest and then begin preparations for the world championships.
“She trains very hard and hasn’t had a break from training for 13 months now. The next big competition is the world paralympic championships in Mexico in October, and that is another long one. She will take at least three weeks off, but then she will have to build it up again after that. She is a very good role model within the club,” Mr Lindsay said.
Sports minister Paul Givan was there to greet the hero of Rio and said we can all be proud of Bethany’s success.
“That will act as a catalyst to motivate people in future to get involved in sport, and it sends a message to people with disabilities that you can achieve,” he said.
The deputy head of school for applied science and sport at SERC Bangor, Lynda Robinson, said she was practically “bursting with pride” at Bethany’s achievements.