When the starting beeps sound poolside today (August 3, 2022) in Birmingham Bethany Firth will propel herself off the starting block and dive into her “happy place.”
Thanks to years of gruelling training her athletic body will spring to life and know exactly what to do as it furiously swallows up the water with every powerful stroke. Beneath Bethany’s smile and warm disposition lies a steely determination for the so far elusive Commonwealth Games medal to hang around her neck, a remaining goal she is hoping to achieve during the Birmingham Games.
“I don’t have a Commonwealth medal so that is what I’d like to get that this year,” she said.
Medal hopes are high for Bethany ahead of taking part in the Women’s 200m Freestyle S14 Final this evening (August 3, 2022).
If successful it will be her 18th major medal in an illustrious career that includes three medals at the recent World Championships in Madeira, four medals at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and four medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
For the first time her scientist husband Andrew Fuller will be watching Bethany, 26, race competitively as he cheers her on from the stands.
“Because of COVID and the restrictions Andrew has only ever seen me race on YouTube not in person. I will be nervous with him watching but it will be great to have him there at the Commonwealth Games to see me race as well,” she said.
There was no time in the swimming star’s schedule for a honeymoon after her beautiful wedding in May. Instead, the newly married couple will be jetting off for six weeks after the Games to honeymoon in East Asia, hopefully with some extra baggage in tow in the shape of a coveted Commonwealth medal.
But despite the fairytale wedding it hasn’t all been plain sailing during the past year. There has been a broken right foot to contend with and the difficult task of training during Lockdowns.
She said: “Lockdown was awful. I was in a paddling pool and my mum in the morning had to go out with a kitchen sieve and to get all the bugs out. It was disgusting – it wasn’t filtered and it was literally turning green. It was bad. I could only stay in it for 40 minutes as it was so cold. My head used to get so sore from the cold and I was tied on by a rope to the fence when I was swimming.
“I love a proper pool,” she laughed.
“The injury has all healed and it’s been doing really well, so I’m back doing everything I need training wise.”
It says a lot about the Seaforde sportswoman that despite the recent challenges she hasn’t skipped a beat as she remains resolutely focused on her sporting goals.
Thankfully, the facilities and coaching support Bethany receives at Sport NI’s Sports Institute at Jordanstown is a far cry from what she and many other top athletes had to endure during Lockdowns. She is quick to credit the Sports Institute team as the foundation on which she has continued to build her sporting success.
“They are so important to the development of my career; I wouldn’t have achieved everything that I’ve achieved without them. Even when times are tough, they pick you up and they understand you,” she explained.
“Sometimes people forget that you are a person, but my Sport Institute team have never forgotten that. Bethy being happy comes first and Bethy the athlete comes second. That makes such an impact because if I come in feeling grumpy then they do something that makes me happy and then we start into training. Everything resolves around what we are doing together as a team, not just me. If it was just me, I’d just give up!”
Bethany has an intellectual impairment that results in memory problems which means she competes in the S14 class. She praises her long-time coach Nelson Lindsay and his understanding of her condition in helping her succeed in the pool.
She said: “We’ve worked together for years and years. He’s really good at changing things or reminding me to do things. Nelson’s ‘on me’ all the time, and that’s really good because I know then what I’m doing. He gets me as a person when other people find it difficult to understand my class.”
“I’m really excited to go and compete. I’ve such a great team around me who support me so much. I feel in a good position and as long as I’m happy in and out of the water I think I’ll do well.”
“In swimming people get really caught up in how you actually do and get caught up in the medals and they actually don’t ask you ‘how do you feel? How was that race? Did you enjoy it?’ I think that’s the main thing – if I go into a race that I’m really happy and enjoy the race I’ll be happy with whatever I get from it.”
She added: “A happy Bethany is a fast Bethany!”
Let’s hope she’s ecstatic when she dives in later today (August 3, 2002).