A rising New Zealand swim star has won a landmark legal battle to compete for his nation without his parents’ permission after they attempted to thwart his dream because they disapproved of his girlfriend – a US Olympic champion, the New Zealand Herald reported Sunday.
Justin Wright, 17, started dating 24-year-old Rhiannon "Rhi" Jeffrey – who won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 4x200m freestyle – after the pair met at the West Auckland Aquatic Club, where Jeffrey was training in a bid to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
But Wright’s parents, Paul and Sandy Wright, took exception to the relationship because of the age difference, claiming Jeffrey had "stolen [Justin] from the cradle."
In protest, they withdrew their consent for Wright to compete at New Zealand Swimming events, but in what is reportedly a legal first in the country, the talented teen won court permission last week to be a member of the organization without his parents’ permission.
"I couldn’t believe [my parents] had done that," Wright said. "But now that we have been through the court and I can swim I am pretty happy."
Jeffrey, a Florida native, said she had never even met Wright’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.
"It was unfortunate that it came to this. I can understand their reservations about the age difference but I see myself as a big kid anyway."