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Following in big footsteps, meet Bethany Paull

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Gymnast Bethany Paull rounded off a remarkable year by attending the star-studded BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in Aberdeen.

The 18-year-old rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in world sport after being nominated for the Young Personality of the Year Award.

Previous winners include Olympic gold medallist and Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray, record-breaking Manchester United and England footballer Wayne Rooney and fellow gymnast Claudia Fragapane, who won four golds at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

At the awards ceremony, Bethany - who won three golds and two silvers at this year's Special Olympics in the United Arab Emirates - was particularly thrilled to meet BBC sports presenter and Blue Peter star Radzi Chinyanganya.

Bethany said: "It was a great experience walking down the famous red carpet. Meeting lots of amazing athletes and celebrities was brilliant.

"My favourite was Radzi because I recognised him off Blue Peter. He promised me a Blue Peter Badge if I send the photograph in to the show."

The Blue Peter Badge can be placed alongside all the medals won by Bethany, who is described as an inspiration to all at Valley Gymnastics Academy in Crumlin.

Having won gold at the 2018 UK Special Olympics, Bethany was selected for the British team which brought home 58 medals from the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics in March.

The youngster, who has learning difficulties, performed brilliantly to win three golds and two silvers in the Level Three Artistic Gymnastics competition.

Bethany's success continued in October when she was crowned overall British Champion in one of the women's senior categories at the Disability Artistic British Championships in Leicester.

She may have been pipped to the Young Sports Personality of the Year Award by World and Olympic youth boxing champion Caroline Dubois, but all at the Crumlin academy are hugely proud of her achievements of the past couple of years.

Head coach and managing director Melissa Anderson said: "I don't know whether Bethany actually recognises how inspirational she is. She takes absolutely everything in her stride.

"She works in a mainstream class with a group of girls two or three times a week and then on a Saturday she is with a group of children who have got disabilities or additional needs.

"So, for the mainstream children she sets a fantastic example, knuckling down and getting on with her work and showing what you can achieve.

"But for the children who are in our disability specific squad she is an exceptional role model. It's like 'ok, you guys may have a disability or some additional needs, but look at what you can achieve if you apply yourself and work hard'.

"Over the last year, we have seen our disability squad grow - gymnasts doing additional competitions and I think Bethany really is a great role model for those kids, showing them what they can achieve."

Eighteen months ago Bethany had to switch coaches because her previous coach, Shevel Hewitt, moved to America. However, she has formed a highly productive relationship with her new coach Jaz McLellan.

Anderson said: "Jaz hadn't worked with disabilities in gymnastics but had a significant background of working with young people with additional needs, but in a school environment. So it was a bit of a challenge for Jazz as well.

"Bethany took a little bit of time to adjust, but to be honest, it's a really lovely relationship they've built. It's fantastic to see.

"She's had a new floor routine, they've changed her music, different routines on all the apparatus. So, as I'm sure you can appreciate, that's quite tough for a young person like Bethany.

"But she got there, she got her skills on time and having seen her routines on video from the world games, she performed absolutely fantastically. She should be really proud of herself.

"Travelling out to Abu Dhabi with coaches from the Special Olympics, who she had only had some sessions with, other new and different things being thrown at her - for her to take all that in and perform her routines to the best of her ability, must have been hugely challenging for her.

"Even if she had gone out there and not won the medals, we would have been exceptionally proud of her because of that. It was such a different culture, different country, there have been so many challenges that she has overcome."

Bethany's success resulted in her recognition as one of the final 10 nominees for the Young Sports Personality of the Year award - selected from exceptional young sportspeople from all over the country.

"Getting shortlisted for the Young Sports Personality of the Year award is a phenomenal achievement for any young person," said Anderson.

"For a girl of her age, the experiences she has had over the past year are just absolutely phenomenal. She has had wonderful experiences and she is such a grounded girl.

"Bethany is a young leader as well, so she volunteers in some of our sessions at the centre.

"She's been on a couple of courses and is going on another one in January, which is an introduction to event volunteering, so there are those other opportunities as well for her to explore."

Anderson says the youngster is the perfect example of what sport can do for children and young people from all backgrounds.

"We are a very inclusive club," she says. "Not just in terms of young people with disability but everybody from the community. We want to provide opportunities for absolutely everybody to enjoy gymnastics.

"I know the benefits it can bring, whether you get to fly to Abu Dhabi, go to Sports Personality of the Year, or you are doing gymnastics at Ebbw Vale Sports Centre once a week, there is so much that can be gained from sport, regular physical activity, interacting with peers, etc. That's the strapline for us - gymnastics for all.

"You have children who are maybe lacking in confidence, so we can give them opportunities to shine or to interact in a safe environment. We know the benefits it can have on well-being and mental health as well.

"I know we've got children and young people who are experiencing some difficulties at home, we have a young girl, for example, who is a carer to her mum.

"They can come to gymnastics and forget about all of that, enjoy their sport and have a bit of escape from whatever might be going on at school, at home and everything else. I just think sport is really special."

As for what's next for Bethany's gymnastics adventure, Anderson says: "We are taking it a step at a time.

"I don't think Bethany likes to think she's got too much on her plate, so next year is the Special Olympics UK games, so at the moment, the aim is for Bethany to develop her routines and take part in that competition."

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