Paulina Ungurianu, 39, ran Elite Sports Rehabilitation at The Lansdowne Club, a private members club in Mayfair, for two years before it was hit by the impact of the COVID crisis.
The single mum provided personal training, injury rehabilitation and sports massage once a week at the club while also working as a Physical Activity Co-ordinator at Homerton Hospital in Hackney.
Despite moving much of the business online, she decided to change careers and is now studying for a Professional Graduate Certificate in Education and Training at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).
As part of her course, Paulina has been working as a part-time Lecturer in Sport at the college where she has been teaching free short courses in massage, physiology and nutrition.
She said: “Business was good until the pandemic came along and it had to close. However, I was able to teach from home and do personal training and rehabilitation sessions on Zoom to help pay my mortgage and provide a decent lifestyle for my children.”
“I am passionate about sports and wanted to inspire others. I wanted to give something back and share my knowledge by teaching the subject I know best. I love seeing people succeed and improving their lives, and my tutors at CONEL have given me the confidence that I can do it.”
Paulina, who lives in Romford, came to the UK from Romania in 2005 and married three years later. She began studying a fitness instruction course while working as a waitress and pregnant with her son Luca.
In 2011 she had had a second child, Victoria and studied to be a personal trainer and would run fitness sessions in evenings and at weekends while her then husband looked after their children.
Paulina progressed to an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Sport and secured a place at the University of East London and took out a student loan to cover the cost of her studies.
Despite the break-up of her marriage while at university, she went on to gain a first class honours degree in Sports Therapy, and was named Sports Therapy Student of the Year in 2017.
During this time Paulina was still working long shifts and weekends in her role with the NHS and as a Personal Trainer at Aquilla Health and Fitness at The Rembrandt Hotel in South Kensington.
“It was very difficult as I was having to pay my mortgage and for a live-in nanny, and in the final year of my degree my mum moved to the UK to help with looking after my children,” said Paulina.
“There were days when I was only sleeping three hours a night. I knew the hard work and tiredness would not last forever, and when I graduated my family’s life would improve. I wanted to be independent and be able to support my kids financially, take them on nice holidays and be a good role model to them.”
While studying at university, Paulina volunteered to provide sports massage for the London Marathon in 2016 and at the IAAF World Championships and World Para Athletics Championships at the London Stadium in 2017.
She also undertook a work placement as an Assistant Sports Therapist at Hornchurch Football Club.
After graduating, Paulina began volunteering physiotherapy support for the charity Football Aid, which has given her the chance to meet sporting legends including Chelsea and Italy forward Gianfranco Zola.
“I think it’s never too late to return to education and mature students should be encourage and helped to do so, and I would encourage anyone to do the same, even if you’re a mum with kids” said Paulina.
“We often underestimate the power of mentoring and guidance. Just the simple fact that someone believes in you and gives you that chance to prove that you can do it, can make such a difference to your future.
“I am extremely proud of what I have achieved and looking forward to the challenges ahead. I feel fully equipped to cope with whatever comes my way. I hope my story will inspire others and help them achieve their goals. If I can do it, anyone can.”