Former Paralympian gold medallist Dianne McMillan has spoken of her “immense pride” after being recognised in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list.
The Ballygally woman, who is Northern Ireland’s most successful Olympian or Paralympian, is to be presented with the MBE for services to swimming and disability awareness.
The 43-year-old won two gold medals, a silver and two bronze in her first Paralympic games, in Seoul in 1988, and went on to win a further bronze medal at the Barcelona Games four years later.
In 2011, Mrs McMillan was chosen to carry the Olympic Flame through the borough in the run-up to the London Games of 2012.
She now provides encouragement, advice and assistance to disabled children and their parents.
The mother-of-three said the prestigious accolade was “completely unexpected”.
“I know there have been a few people campaigning for a number of years for this to happen, but it still came as a bit of a shock,” she added.
“It was a very pleasant surprise to get the letter through the post and I am grateful to all those behind the nomination process.”
Mrs McMillan was born with a deformed lower left leg, and when she was 11-years-old, she took the difficult decision to have her foot amputated in order that an artificial limb could be worn.
But the former Larne Grammar School pupil has never been hindered by her disability and she excelled at swimming from a young age.
In 1985 she competed at national and world level in various disabled championships, won a total of 95 gold medals and set 47 national records and six world records.
She also medals in several of the provincial schools’ championships, and was the girls’ captain of the local swimming club.
After retiring from the sport she loves so much, the talented athlete turned to primary school teaching.
Mrs McMillan’s incredible resolve and determination in the face of adversity has led to her becoming an inspirational figure for other people facing an amputation, and her success story has often proved to be a source of encouragement and hope.
She is very much in demand, giving talks to primary and special needs schools and various other groups of young people, where she proudly wears her Olympic track suit and lets the children admire her collection of medals.
Mrs McMillan added: “It has always been my intention going into schools to help raise the profile of sport locally, and there is a real buzz in the town at the minute, with a lot of people getting more into fitness. A lot of new running clubs have sprung up and the Parkrun is proving very popular.
“My five-year-old twins are just starting swimming now and it is great to see that Larne Swimming Club continues to go from strength to strength, as it was such a massive part of my childhood.
Getting an MBE was not something I ever set out to achieve, but I am thrilled to bits to be recognised in this way.”