Bethany Firth determined to add to medals at Paralympics
SCARCELY three years after nervously dipping her toes into a swimming pool for the first time, Bethany Firth stood proudly at the top of the medal rostrum at the 2012 Paralympics in London after winning a gold medal for Ireland in the 100 metres backstroke.
Fear of aggravating a shoulder injury prevented the 20-year-old Seaforde woman from competing in two other events but now she has set her sights on adding to her medal tally in Rio. The Ards SC swimmer will be competing in four events, the 100 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley and the indications would suggest Firth is more than capable of exceeding the medal tally she achieved in London four years ago.
In April of this year, competing in the qualifiers for the Rio Games, she set a new world record in the 200 metres freestyle in Glasgow when she posted a time of 2:03.70 at the British Para-International meet. In March 2015, Firth broke the world record for the 100m breaststroke in qualifying for that year's IPC World Championships but she was unable to compete in the showpiece due to a fractured wrist.
Now representing Great Britain after switching her allegiance in 2013 and competing alongside able-bodied swimmers for Northern Ireland at the following year's Commonwealth Games, Firth is no stranger to adversity as she prepares to take part in the S14 category in Rio.
She has learning difficulties which clearly don't affect her swimming ability which was seldom in doubt after she was literally forced into the water as a 13-year-old schoolgirl: "From a very young age I didn't like swimming, I preferred other sports and I was actually terrified of going into the water but that all changed when I went to secondary school," she recalled.
"Swimming was one of the compulsory sports so they pushed me into it and, obviously, I now love the sport. I have a short-term memory; I can remember things for about a day and then it will all vanish and there are certain things I can remember although someone can tell me something then I will forget it and it can be frustrating at times. I didn't learn the alphabet or the days of the week until I was going into secondary school; I couldn't even spell my name and no-one could understand it."
However, Bethany has no difficulty recalling that golden moment at London 2012 when she felt on top of the world as she stood on the rostrum after defying the pain barrier and the fact she was such a late-starter in the sport.
"It was just the most amazing feeling in the world; I was just so excited and it was the most amazing experience ever standing on the podium with a gold medal around your neck," she explained.
"I didn't really feel the shoulder injury to be honest although my coach said it probably affected the time I set but that was the last thing on my mind amidst the euphoria of winning a gold medal. It was disappointing not to be able to take part in the 100 free and breaststroke, of course, but that was a precautionary measure as there would have been a risk of making the injury worse."
Like all competitive swimmers, Bethany has made many sacrifices in her life in pursuit of excellence but she's not complaining as she prepares for her second Paralympics: "Without swimming I don't know what I'd do with my life although there have been many sacrifices, like getting up at four in the morning to train and going to bed at nine o'clock," she added.
"Of course with such a regime you can't really go out with friends and there's also the strict diet you have to adhere to, like choosing a bit of fruit ahead of a chocolate bar but the sacrifices make me more determined to succeed and the target for Rio is simple - win more medals."