South Tyneside superswimmer Josef Craig has announced his retirement from the sport that catapulted him into the national spotlight.
The 21-year-old, from Jarrow, says he agonised for months over the decision which will see him no longer competing in high profile events.
Josef, who started swimming at the age of nine, was the youngest Paralympian to win gold in the games held in London in 2012.
The top spot on the podium led to him being awarded an MBE for services to swimming and sport.
The following year, Josef who has cerebral palsy, swam his way to two golds and a silver at the World Para Swimming Championships in Montreal.
Following re-classification from S7 to S8, he still remained a champion securing medals at the European Championships in Eindhoven and a bronze in the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016 - making him the first person to win medals in consecutive games following reclassification.
I really had doubts as to whether I could continue as an elite athlete, but I proved to myself I could when I won bronze in Rio.Josef Craig
Josef, who openly talks about his battles with his mental health, said: “It’s something I have thought about for a while. I kept asking myself, is this something I want to do.
“It was something that was constantly on my mind, that it got to the point where I just had to make the decision. And once I did it was like a huge weight had been lifted.
“I am so lucky in that I am in such a privileged position, in that I have achieved everything I set out to do.
“After I won gold the first time I could have retired then, but I didn’t and as it happens I achieved things which were well beyond my wildest dreams.”
Josef added: “When I was reclassified, it was a dark time for me. I struggled with anxiety, bipolar and depression but I think the reclassification was the catalyst that really brought those out in me.
“I really had doubts as to whether I could continue as an elite athlete, but I proved to myself I could when I won bronze in Rio.
“Things did get really bad, and I did attempt to take my own life a few times, I don’t know what saved me, but there’s clearly a reason why I’m still here.”
Josef, who is at Northumbria University studying Sports Management says he doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but he also has a keen interest in psychology.
Thanking everyone who has supported him throughout his career, he now wants to give something back to the sport which gave him so many memories.
He said: “I still love swimming and the sport. I am currently working with South Tyneside Swimming Club as a coach and teacher. That’s where it all started for me and I would love to help the next generation to reach their goals, whatever they may be,”