Two years ago Florie McLeish was a 16-year-old swimmer from Fulwood, Preston, squeezing in training whilst completing her GCSE exams.
Fast forward to the present and the bubbly teenager is now living in Dunblane, finishing her schooling at Beaconhurst in Bridge of Allan whilst training hard to be on the start line at Glasgow 2014.
Should she make it, it won’t be from a starter’s block at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre, but from a floating pontoon at Strathclyde Country Park, as McLeish is now a fully-fledged triathlete.
Swimming since the age of five, McLeish added in one running session a week then borrowed a bike and tried triathlon in 2012, her debut performance catching the eye of regional coaches who put her forward for a trial with the GB Talent Squad.
“When I told my parents I wanted to do triathlon, they said I was too young, but I decided I wanted to give it a try,” recalled McLeish. “I didn’t get through the trial as they said I didn’t have a good enough running background, which was probably true as I’d only been doing one session a week for a year before.”
Enter triathlonscotland National Performance Development Coach Chris Volley. Spotting her potential, Volley invited McLeish to train with the Scottish squads, having discovered her family were moving en masse back to Scotland, her dad hailing from Edinburgh and her mum from Perth.
McLeish said: “Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly the transition all happened. I kept it a secret at first and my friends were shocked when I told them what I was doing, but they encouraged me as they are all sporty too and they respect what I’m doing.
“I have always really enjoyed swimming and running. I didn’t want to give them up so being able to do them and cycling as well is great. I enjoy the competitive side too and while it’s hard, you see a big reward from the work you put in at training.
“I was naïve at the start – in my first race, seven separate bike packs passed me, but generally speaking it’s gone pretty smoothly. I started the season really well, but injuries meant I didn’t finish it. Still, I’ve achieved lots more than I ever expected in so short a space of time.”
That she has, racing at the European Junior Championships last June and then in her first senior race in October, a World Cup race in Mexico. Both provided a steep learning curve for McLeish, who didn’t finish either event, the intense heat a major factor in Mexico as she stepped up to the daunting Olympic distance – a 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.
Undeterred, these competitions have only served to bolster her self-belief and allow her to dream of being at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
“If someone had said to me two years’ ago that I would be in sight of the Commonwealth Games I would have thought no chance,” added McLeish. “It feels weird even seeing my name on the list trying to get there.
“I’m trying not to think about it too much; it’s always there at the back of my mind, but it has to stay there as otherwise it would take over. The way I’m approaching it is to focus on my age group events and what happens, happens. It’s actually quite motivating.
“Ever since I was younger when we filled out the swimming forms and the question of what team would I want to swim for, I always answered ‘Scotland’. I’ve always felt Scottish and my mum and dad would not have been happy if I’d written down England.”
“It would be a great experience for me, especially so young, to experience a major games atmosphere. I’m sure it’d be pretty nerve-wracking, but to represent Scotland, I would feel so honoured, especially at a home games.”
Right now, McLeish has plenty on her plate, sitting her school exams with the hope of making the grades to go to university. Her 2014 race schedule is still being planned, but with the aim of giving the proud Scot every chance of Commonwealth qualification.
You can follow Florie on Twitter @Florieemcleish
Photo Credit: BTF