ALICE Tai will return from Rio next week with at least one medal after a stunning Paralympic debut – and there could be relay medals to follow.

Just 10 months after quitting the sport before being persuaded to return, Dorset’s first Paralympic swimmer powered to an unexpected bronze in the S10 100m backstroke.

Tai, 17, who was out of the water for two months after leaving British Para-swimming’s National Performance Centre in Manchester in November, said: “I never thought this was possible. I never even expected to make the team at the start of the year. It’s crazy.”

The Bournemouth Collegiate School academy swimmer was cheered from the grandstand by “Team Tai” – family, friends, BCS coaches Zoe Baker and Adam Parfitt and some nearby Brazilians who joined in.

Baker and Parfitt are in Rio as guests of British Para-swimming after persuading Tai to make her comeback, then coaching her back to form in time to qualify for Rio.

Tai, who was born with two club feet and had 14 operations by the age of 12, made the final third fastest in 1:09.64.

She then improved to 1:09.39 to grab bronze by 0.23sec from Canada’s Aurelie Rivard.

On the podium she found herself alongside her childhood hero Sophie Pascoe, who won her seventh Paralympic gold in 1:07.04.

“Four years ago I was at the London Paralympics trying to get a picture with Sophie,” said Tai.

“Now I’m on a podium with her. I look up to her so much and it’s a dream come true what’s happening to me right now.”

Tai, whose room-mate in Rio is 15-year-old gold medallist Ellie Robinson, added: “What Ellie did was so inspiring. I think there are some big celebrations ahead when we finish our competitions.”

Tai – one of two New Milton swimmers in the 30-strong British team – also made the final of her second event, the S10 100m butterfly, finishing seventh in 1:11.92.

She was 11th in the 100m freestyle in 1:04.32.

Tai – originally selected as a relay swimmer – could add to her medal if picked for Britain’s 34-point freestyle and medley teams tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow.

The other New Milton swimmer, Mikey Jones, made a promising start to his international career, slashing his PB to 30.67 to make the S7 50m freestyle final, then lowering it again to 29.82 to come seventh.

But this was the weakest of his three events. He was ranked number one for last night’s 400m freestyle with the 100m freestyle to follow tomorrow.

If he wins a medal, Jones plans to dedicate it to the memory of his dad, Bernard, who died two months ago after a long illness.

He has a lock of Bernard’s hair with him on poolside.