Tokyo Paralympic hero Bethany Firth was “blown away” to discover that she had been made an OBE, her mother has said.
The swimmer, who has nine Paralympic medals, including six golds, is one of a number of Northern Ireland sporting stars who have been recognised in the New Year Honours list.
Six-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, from Co Antrim, has also been made an OBE. He said it was another “landmark moment” in his career.
Six-time Paralympic sprint champion Jason Smyth from Londonderry has been honoured with an MBE.
The Tokyo Paralympics this year brought two further gold medals for Bethany, despite her preparation being severely restricted by the pandemic and lockdown, which included her having to train in a 10ft paddling pool at her family home in Seaforde, County Down.
Her OBE will be added to the MBE she received in 2017.
Her mother Lindsey Firth said: “We found out about it in November. We were a bit late because we had moved addresses and it took them a while to track us down.
“But Bethany was absolutely thrilled, it is a great honour.
“She only ever swims for everyone else. She just wants all the praise to go back to the family, the church, her coach and all the support she receives.”
Lindsey added: “When she got the MBE, there were a lot of athletes getting it at the time, so we weren’t that surprised.
“But the OBE did really take us by surprise. I think it is because for three Paralympics running she held her record and because she does a lot of charity work.”
The 25-year-old swimmer hopes to qualify for the Paralympic World Championships and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.
Her mother said: “It will be another busy year, with two major events. She has no thoughts of retirement at the moment. She takes each year as it comes.”
Bethany is currently recovering after breaking her foot in the gym, but her mother said her hard work continued despite the injury.
She added: “The OBE is just such a huge honour for her.
“We still have her MBE certificate up on the wall, we will now have another one to go alongside it.
“It is just amazing, she is just blown away by it. It is a great recognition for her.”
Jonathan Rea will also add the OBE to the MBE he received in 2017.
He told the PA news agency: “It was a huge surprise, to be honest. It is a big deal and I am very happy.
“These recognitions go outside of my sport, it is always more impactful than winning a race or even a world championship.
“I fondly remember my MBE, my mum, dad and wife all went to Buckingham Palace. I am looking forward to receiving the OBE honour.”
He added: “I am really, really proud to represent Northern Ireland and the UK around the world and I really hope that this gives some added credibility to motorcycling.
“It is another landmark moment in my career. These things stick in your memory forever.”