A Paralympic medallist from County Down was given a hero’s welcome when she returned to her old school on Wednesday.  Swimmer Bethany Firth, 16, from Seaforde, won a gold medal at the London Games.  She also set a personal best as she claimed victory for Team Ireland in 100m backstroke final.  Former head girl Bethany showed off her medal to pupils at Longstone School in Dondonald.

She described it as amazing experience.

“The support from everyone has been great,” she said.

“They have helped me so much. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would have got a gold. It’s unbelievable.”

Swimming coach Jeremy Starr said Bethany had initially been a “wee bit tentative as regards the swimming”.

“We encouraged her into the pool,” he said.

‘Really happy’

“She has shown that if you have talent and you work very hard – and Bethany has worked extremely hard – you can go a long way.

“She’s got a gold medal in the Paralympics, but underneath it all a lovely modest girl.”

The 16-year-old, who has a learning disability, became Northern Ireland’s youngest Paralympian.

She took up swimming just three years ago.

The whole school gathered in the main assembly hall to celebrate her success.

One of her young fans said: “She’s been swimming for ages and it’s just amazing”.

Another said: “I’m just really happy for her.”

Bethany set a time of 1:08.93, despite struggling with a shoulder injury ahead of the Games.

It was the first time the teenager had competed at the Paralympics.