Some of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games medalists returned yesterday for a hero’s reception.
Here was a warm welcome for the Team NI water sports crew at Belfast City Airport as Bethany Firth, Barry McClements and Daniel Wiffen came home.
Greeted by cheers and photographers’ camera flashes, the team smiled as they carried their luggage – including some brand new cutlery from the Birmingham games – through the terminal.
Firth (26) claimed her first-ever Commonwealth gold medal in the S14 200m freestyle at the Games, adding to an extensive medal tally including six golds at the 2012 Paralympics, 2016 and the belated 2020 Games, and golds at the European and… World Championships.
“I’m just over the moon, I’m so happy and relieved to have received the complete collection (the medals),” she said as she was greeted by members of her family as well as her new husband, Andrew Fuller, all clothed in ‘Team Bethy ‘ t shirts.
“It’s been a long time for me, I won my first gold in London in 2012 and ten years later I finally have a complete collection. It took a while, but we made it in the end.”
Even after so much success, Firth said each of her medals is special.
“Every season there are so many hiccups and bumps, this season I broke my foot and got married so I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get that medal,” she added.
“People don’t see the hard work, sometimes they just look and expect medal after medal and that’s not the case. My team and family know exactly what went into each medal and it means so much to me, when I look at each of them they all tell a story.”
Firth, who has a learning disability that causes short-term memory loss and therefore competes in the S14 classification, a category for athletes with intellectual disabilities, has her sights set on the Paralympics in Paris in 2024 – but there’s something small on the agenda first personal.
“First of all, I’m finally going on my honeymoon,” she said, adding that she and her new husband Andrew plan to travel around East Asia for six weeks during their free time.
Swimmer Wiffen (21), who won silver in the 1,500m freestyle at the Sandwell Aquatics Center, had his medal hanging from his neck.
“It was fantastic, I’m back with my whole family here in Belfast with a silver medal, it’s great,” he said.
“Our team was just a small part of the village and on the last day we were able to see the entire venue – it was amazing.”
When asked how he will be celebrating, his mother Rachel said the family will be enjoying a meal in their village of Moira. She said she was “so proud of Daniel.”
McClements (20) also spoke of his joy after his historic bronze medal. He became the first Northern Ireland athlete to win a medal in pool on the first day of the Games when he took bronze in the S9 100m backstroke.
“It feels unreal doing it in front of an almost home crowd with a couple of family members and with the guys on the team and their families, the crowd was definitely loud,” he said.
Regarding the importance of his medal, McClements, who had his right leg amputated at the age of 10 months, said it was “amazing as so many good swimmers have come from Northern Ireland”.
However, the pressure will soon increase again.
“I’m taking a month off and next year the World Championships are in Manchester so I’m hoping my family will come over to see me,” he added.
Swim Ulster’s Linda Stoops, who joined the team in Birmingham, shared her joy and excitement at the team’s success.
“I’m super proud of a great little team. We had ten swimmers and they behaved so professionally the whole time,” she said.
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/emotions-run-high-as-ni-aquatics-team-come-home-41893124.html Emotions run high as NI aquatics team come home