Swimming star Bethany Firth has revealed how her sporting success may not have happened if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of her PE teacher.

The nine-times Paralympian medal winner credits her Longstone Special School teacher Jerome Starrs for helping her overcome her fear of water and setting her on the road to gold medal glory.

It was during a holiday to Australia that a four-year-old Bethany fell into a swimming pool and had to be rescued by a lifeguard. The frightening experience left its mark on the youngster, and she was terrified of water until Jerome helped her overcome her fear and set her on the path to sporting success.

The Paralympian revealed her unsung sporting hero in a Sport Ni video released on Thursday, June 9, as nominations open for the organisation’s annual SportMaker Awards that celebrates unsung sporting heroes. The awards give the sporting community the opportunity to showcase their achievements and give special thanks to coaches, officials and volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes.

Bethany revealed in the video: “As a child I had a fear of water but thanks to my PE teacher Mr Starrs who encouraged me to swim and now I have nine Paralympic medals.

“He was my SportMaker.”

Bethany, along with previous SportMaker winners Jahswill Emmanuel, Tomasz Rzonca and Lee Campbell, starred in the video to encourage people to nominate their unsung sporting heroes for this year’s awards.

Jahswill, who won SportMaker Volunteer of the Year award 2020, said: “I think there are so many valuable people throughout our clubs who are very worthy of recognition.

“I was delighted to win the award in 2020. So I would urge anyone who knows someone deserving of a SportMaker award to make a nomination.”

Sport NI Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown added: “Our SportMaker Awards acknowledge the work of our sporting workforce and highlight the outstanding people and projects that have made a big impact over the last year.

“We know there are many unsung sporting heroes out there who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help enrich people’s lives through the power of sport.

“These fantastic awards give us all the opportunity to recognise the work they do for our communities, clubs, and members. If you know a SportMaker we want to hear about it.”

Nominations for the SportMaker Awards are open now until July 24, 2022, with 12 award categories recognising achievement at all levels of sports participation, from grassroots through to high performance.

Click here to nominate or go to www.sportni.net/sportmaker/