Emotions run high as NI Aquatics team returns home

Yesterday, some of the medalists from the Commonwealth Games in Northern Ireland became heroes again.

It was a warm welcome for the NI Water Team at Belfast City Airport as Bethany Firth, Barry McClements and Daniel Wiffen returned home.

Cheered with applause and camera flashes, the entire team smiled as they carried their luggage, which included new cutlery from the Birmingham Games, through the terminal.

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Bethany Firth gets a welcome home hug from mom

Firth (26) won her first Commonwealth gold medal in the 200m S14 freestyle at the games, adding to an extensive medal collection that includes six gold medals at the 2012 Paralympics, 2016 and the postponed 2020 Games, as well as gold at the Olympics. European and world championships.

“I’m in seventh heaven, I’m so happy and relieved to have received the complete collection (of medals),” she said as she was greeted by members of her family as well as her new husband Andrew Fuller, all dressed up. Team Bethy T-shirts.

“It was a long time ago for me, I won my first gold in 2012 in London and it’s been ten years and I finally have a complete collection. It took a while, but in the end we did it.”

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Barry McClements, Bethany Firth and Daniel Wiffen in their medals

Even after such great success, Firth said that each of her medals is special.

“Every season you have so many hiccups and bumps, this season I broke my leg and got married, so I had to overcome many obstacles to get this medal,” she added.

“People don’t see the hard work, sometimes they just look and wait for medal after medal, but that’s not the case. My team and family know exactly what each medal is made of and it means so much to me that when I look at each one, they all tell a story.”

Firth, who has a learning disability that causes short-term memory loss and therefore competes in the S14 classification for athletes with intellectual disabilities, has her eyes set on the Paris 2024 Paralympics. more personal.

“Firstly, I’m finally leaving for my honeymoon,” she said, adding that she and her new husband Andrew plan to travel East Asia for six weeks in her spare time.

Swimmer Wiffen, 21, who won silver in the 1500m freestyle at the Sandwell Aquatics Center, wore the medal around his neck.

“It was fantastic, I returned to Belfast with the whole family with a silver medal, it’s great,” he said.

“Our team was only a small part of the village, and on the last day we saw the whole site – it was amazing.”

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Daniel’s identical twin Nathan was at the airport to greet him.

Asked how he would celebrate, his mother Rachel said the family was going to have lunch in their local village of Moira. She said she was “so proud of Daniel”.

McClements (20) also spoke of his excitement after his historic bronze medal. He was the first Northern Irish athlete to win a medal in the pool on the first day of games when he took bronze in the S9 100m backstroke.

“It seems unrealistic to do it in front of an almost homely crowd with a few family members and also the guys from the team and their families, the crowd was definitely loud,” he said.

Regarding the significance of his medal, McClements, whose right leg was amputated when he was 10 months old, said it was “incredible since so many good swimmers have come from Northern Ireland”.

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Barry shows younger brother Cruz his bronze medal

However, the pressure will return soon.

“I’m on a month break and next year the World Cup is in Manchester so I hope my family will come to see me,” he added.

Linda Stoops of Swim Ulster, who joined the team in Birmingham, shared her joy and delight at the team’s success.

“I am very proud of this amazing little team. We had ten swimmers and they all acted very professionally the whole time,” she said.