It was always likely that Kirsty would find herself most comfortable pursuing some form of sporting career. There is a strong sporting tradition in her family. Her father, an assistant headmaster at an Edinburgh school, is in his 50s and still regularly competes in triathlon competitions. Will Kirsty keep going for that long? “I hope not,” she replies, “I wouldn’t have the energy.”

KIRSTY BALFOUR has had to come to terms with her rise to prominence in the world of competitive swimming quickly. At the age of 18 she was already a Scottish champion and a Commonwealth Games finalist in the 100 metres breaststroke. And as she reflects upon her stunning achievements to date, even Kirsty admits: “I never thought I would come this far.”

The life of an international-class swimmer can usually be defined as a mixture of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, and Kirsty is no exception. She trains every day under the watchful eye of coach Tim Jones at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh. It’s a punishing schedule. For two hours, starting at 6am, she swims 50m lengths of the training pool using all four swimming strokes – freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and her favoured breaststroke. She also has to endure a gruelling program of lifting weights that is designed to build up her strength.

“The training is very hard and we are pushed to the limits, but you get used to it – it becomes your routine,” says Kirsty. “I am even used to waking up early. On days when I can get a lie in I still wake up at five o’clock!”

However, the real joy for Kirsty, like most sportsmen and women, is not the training, but the chance to compete against other athletes. “You are always aiming towards the next big competition and you know everyone is there to win. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely worthwhile. I just love swimming and competing,” she added.

Kirsty claims that there is always a warm and friendly atmosphere amongst the competitors at the major meets. Also, she is not one to get too nervous before a big race, “I just go out there and swim and do my best.”

Her most recent major swimming meet was the British Championships held in Sheffield, in March. The competition also doubled as the trials for the world championships in Barcelona later this year and provided Kirsty with the opportunity to reinforce her standing as one of Britain’s top breaststroke specialists, and prove that she was on course for next year’s Olympic Games in Athens.

Unfortunately her lack of competitive racing this year heading into the Nationals proved decisive – a shoulder injury restricted Kirsty to just one major outing, the British Universities Championships, prior to Sheffield – and she had to settle for a best placing of second in the 200m breaststroke. Her other two favoured breaststroke events, the 50m and 100m, where she was the defending champion, saw her finish just outside the medals.

The performance wasn’t good enough to secure a place in the initial squad for Spain, however she remains optimistic with a couple of more opportunities still to impress the selectors before the final world championship team is named.

“The Olympics in Athens is the big one, but we’ll just see how it goes this year,” added the modest youngster. “It would be great to make the worlds team, but I’m not making any predictions.”

Kirsty, now 19, looks set to have a prolific swimming career ahead of her, but knows exactly where her true ambitions lie – to serve and glorify God. “I know that God has given me a talent, it’s something not of myself, and I am ultimately using that talent for his glory.”

Brought up to attend church every Sunday, Kirsty became a Christian at an early age. “I think I was about seven when I gave my life to Jesus,” she remembers. However, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that she started to think more seriously about what she believed. “I came to a point where I had to think through everything I believed again, and I have now made a firm commitment to follow Jesus Christ. In the past few years my relationship with Jesus has grown a lot stronger and I feel closer to God.”

“I pray before competitions and when I am in the water,” she reveals “One of my favourite verses in the bible has to be Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do everything through Him who strengthens me’. It is a very simple verse, but when I am training or competing, feeling like I am just about to die, I know God is there in the water with me, and he will see me through.”

As a Christian, the teenage swimming star is very aware that success is not the be all and end all in life. “If you do your best but you still don’t make the grade then it is not in God’s will for you to succeed.” Her faith certainly affects the way Kirsty Balfour approaches her swimming, but how does her belief in Jesus change the way she lives her everyday life?

“Being a Christian is sometimes hard as there are things you feel are not right for you to do. Unlike a lot of my friends I don’t drink, but my friends know why and they respect what I believe. My swimming mates have asked me questions and it is good to be open about your faith.”

There is an obvious humility about the way Kirsty views her long list of achievements to date. She is aware that it is important to avoid becoming too proud of her success and is quick to acknowledge what she has is a God-given talent. “I don’t want to become boastful about what I have achieved because I know it has only been possible through God.”

When she is not swimming, Kirsty can be found studying for a sports science degree at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. However, she is unsure of her plans for the future or want she ultimately wants to do. “I will swim for as long as I can, but I have no real idea what I will be doing and where God wants me to be in the future. God has a definite plan for my life and at the moment that involves swimming. When it comes down to it I don’t mind what I achieve in the sport because I know that if I keep trusting God he will work out everything for the good.”