June 25, 2017

Swim star divorces parents over love for US olympic champion

Rhi Jeffrey and Justin Wright. It seems that Rhi was not what Mrs Wright had in mind for her little boy.

A talented teen swimmer has won a legal battle after his parents tried to block his dream of representing New Zealand at the London Olympics.

Justin Wright, 17, is in a relationship with United States Olympic champion Rhiannon (Rhi) Jeffrey, 24, after they met at the West Auckland Aquatic Club.

Rhi Jeffrey, won gold for the United States in the 4x200m relay at the Athens Olympics in 2004. She has moved to Auckland to be closer to her New Zealand coach, Dave Wright, in an attempt to qualify for next year’s London Olympics.

Justin’s parents Paul and Sandy, tried to break up the relationship. Sandy used her position as a former club secretary at the West Auckland Aquatic Club to bombarded club members with emails, demanding their coach intervene.

The correspondence became so abusive that David Wright (no relation) hired a lawyer to ask that the emails stop.

In one email, Sandy claimed the American had “stolen [Justin] from the cradle”.

In desperation, she and her husband withdrew their consent for Justin to compete at Swimming New Zealand events, destroying his chances of qualifying for the Swimming World Cup in November. Justin being under 18 required his parents consent to compete.

In what is believed to be a legal first, Justin won court permission this week to be a member of Swimming New Zealand and effectively divorce his parents.

Justin attends Westlake Boys’ High School and shares an apartment with Rhi Jeffrey. He said he was “annoyed” his parents had tried to prevent him from competing.

“I couldn’t believe they had done that,” he said. “But now that we have been through the court and I can swim I am pretty happy.”

He was not sure if he could mend his relationship with his parents, but said he would not give up Rhi.

“I’m not sure how they feel now, I tried,” he said. “Things are good with Rhi, really good.”

Jeffrey said she had never met Justin’s parents.

“It would be one thing if they had made their minds up after they met me,” she said. “I am a very abrasive in-your-face kind of person and a lot of people don’t appreciate that but those people don’t know me from the next person on the street.”

Dave Wright who coaches both swimmers said Justin’s swimming had gone from strength to strength since his relationship with Rhi.

“She is a very hard trainer and she makes him go to every training session she goes to. He has improved his personal best time in the 50-metre butterfly by 1.5 seconds, which is huge,” he said.

According to court documents, Swimming New Zealand terminated Justin’s membership as he was under 18 years old and no longer had the permission of his parents.

The judgment was rushed through so Justin could compete at the Auckland Winter Championships yesterday.