When old students take the trouble to come back to school, to share their journey and explain their practice, it’s both humbling and inspirational. Antonia, who left us in 2018, positively bounced back in, proud, loud and practical in her advice to our students, explaining how she had eschewed the university route beyond school, buckling down to work straightaway, and through a combination of sheer persistence and dogged determination carved out a working world for herself, creating her own online fitness and coaching service, AKGFIT. Her enthusiasm is tangible as she declares, almost in one breath, that her enterprise is her ‘whole life’ but also that she ’wouldn’t be doing it without Hurtwood’. What an enticing opener. Let’s get these ducks in a row, enjoy the ride and share the advice.
So, over the course of a lively presentation to the students alongside fellow alumni Abbas Dayekh (read his story also on After HW) and following this up with a thoughtful question-and-answer session, Antonia revealed all. Joining Hurtwood in 2016 from local school the Duke of Kent, she studied Theatre, Media and English, with a one year AS in Dance. She had every intention of following a career path into theatrical performance but, enjoyable though she found it, the lure of the gym during afternoon activities grew from a weekly to a daily addition to her day. She freely confesses that she struggled with her academic work, and that it was only with the sustained support and belief of her teachers that she was ultimately able to achieve strong grades. Also, as the last few terms of her A Level studies approached, she became more sure that what she wanted was to get to work at once, not in performance and the arts, but in the fitness world that she had never considered.
Having always favoured the performing arts over PE, Games or even Biology, this was a surprise even to herself. So how did she make this happen? She threw herself into work. Part-time nannying and bar work allowed her to make her first investment in the form of a Level 3 personal trainer course, and with this she began the journey into the world of online fitness, nutrition and wellbeing. Antonia takes time to stress to the students listening that there was never an option of financial support from elsewhere: there was no financial safety net available, and it was down to her to make a go of her own ideas, her own business vision.
So as 2018 turned into 2019 the commitment was frantic, the days often lonely, particularly as the world turned on its axis and along came Covid which of course changed everything, and here comes a stream of practical and wholly admirable advice. Locked down into our own bewildered worlds and selves, the vital and complex interrelation between physical and mental wellbeing became central. For a good while Antonia admits that she had ‘no life. I was up at 6, online at 7 am and closing down my screen at 10pm’. Same thing day after day, for week after week. She is brave enough to admit that loneliness and anxiety plagued her in these early days. ‘I had imposter syndrome,’ she admits, but immediately points out where all ‘this slog’ has got her. Her working world is now ‘less connected to the phone’, she is building a team around her and she herself is ‘much more present’ and now ‘reaping the rewards’ of so much commitment.
The company now has a staff of three, with a new coach and class instructors arriving in the near future, and plans to build on the wellness provision of a larger psychological support team. Antonia now feels confident that her work/life balance has been restored, and that she has staff in place that free her to think in broader terms about her business development. ‘Managing your own time,’ she observes, ‘is one of the biggest challenges.’ Adding that ‘fear of failure’ really haunted her; that she is patently succeeding is thanks in part to her ability to ‘stay flexible to change’ and just ‘keep going’. Her experience of the most difficult times has clearly enlarged her empathy with others’ struggles, and it becomes clearly evident that as a personal trainer she is providing extraordinary support across a wide customer base, with fitness, nutrition and mental well-being.
Asked how she has built up the business she acknowledges the centrality of social media, specifically Instagram and, increasingly, TikTok. Persistence is the key, she reiterates on a number of occasions, and loves the fact that she is beholden to none and rightly proud of the fact that nothing has been given to her, that her rewards are growing from her own commitment. The future? She has plans aplenty, including running retreats and building on holistic support systems. What is she most proud of amongst her many achievements in so short a time? Her ‘self-belief’ and ‘not giving up’, as well as the considerable rewards of helping others achieve their personal goals. Having added further training and qualifications in the last few years, she offers the clear advice to our present cohort of students to follow what it is you love. ‘And look after yourself,’ she advises. ‘Believe in yourself. You are the only one in the end who will always show up. Be yourself, believe in yourself.’
Only five years out of school, Antonia brings a lovely clarity to her journey thus far, an empathy that one feels will shape a long and successful career working with others. An ethos of honest hard work and humble self-appraisal have set her on a fair course for sustained business success, and it is lovely to hear just how invaluable her Hurtwood years have been in honing down her choices and supporting her endeavours, even in the face of the Covid challenges. Her experience seems entirely on point for both our world and our students’ future. ‘I genuinely adore my job,’ she declared, even as she made clear that her original career vision had been a very different one. Having settled now on this exciting industry and its rapid growth in a post-Covid world, she offers the very sound advice to use your years immediately after school to best advantage, to explore the avenues of work that excite and interest you, to explore different options, be flexible, but aim for something you really care about, something to which you will give 110% every day.
Phew. One last stroll down Hurtwood memories? Freshers’ (enthusiastic cheers from the students), ‘the food, the friends and the coffee!’ And some affectionate memories of teachers also, particularly Mike Niland. Antonia leaves the impression of a student who found hidden layers of herself at school, and has used this knowledge to superb effect in creating her onward working life. ‘I want to help people achieve things they didn’t think they could achieve,’ she tells me as our catch-up comes to a close. Not unlike our teachers’ role at Hurtwood, I find myself thinking. Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Antonia. We’re very proud of you so keep on keeping on; we love it!