At just 14 years’ old Kaja Choma (now 25) and her family moved from Oswiecim, Poland to Dungannon, Northern Ireland. Despite being unable to speak English, her parents chose Northern Ireland for a better way of life.
From a young age Kaja was a keen sportswoman. Swimming competitively in Poland for five years, she grew up training twice a day and eating carefully to support her sport. However, when she moved to Northern Ireland she found it very difficult settling in to both a new environment and swimming club due to the language barrier. Kaja returned to sport at the age 16 and chose Judo: this reignited her passion for sport and fitness and when she joined Queen’s University Belfast to study Psychology, she immediately signed up to the gym.
“Growing up I had always loved sport and staying active, but I lost a lot my confidence when I first moved to Northern Ireland. Not speaking the language and coming from a completely different background unfortunately made me a prime target for bullies. Both my physical and mental wellbeing suffered as a result,” said Kaja. “I loved getting back into sport but it wasn’t something I had considered as a career.”
Whilst at University, Kaja worked in the sports department in an office-based role. After graduating in 2012 she took a job in HR, but found office life stressful and the long hours meant her fitness regime and health slipped.
Planning an alternative career, Kaja signed up to a 7-day intensive Level 2 gym instructor course at Belfast Metropolitan College in April 2016. Two days before taking her final practical exam, Kaja received a phone call from her tutor at Belfast Metropolitan asking if she’d like to enter the Association of College’s (AoC) Fitness Trainer competition as they felt she really stood out.
“I literally couldn’t believe it when they asked me, but I had a very tight deadline so needed to act fast. When they called me I only had one day left before the competition closed,” she said. “I completed a detailed questionnaire and had to create a two-minute video for my submission. I was pretty much up all night editing it to get it finished in time. It was all worth it in the end, as I was selected to go to Basingstoke for the regional heats which I won, and then went on to the semi-finals in July where I won again.”
The finals were not until November, so Kaja went back to her full-time office job. Alongside this, she set up a new fitness initiative within Dungannon specifically aimed at women within the Polish community.
“I really wanted to do my part to give back and help support others as moving to a new country can always be difficult. Especially when you don’t speak the language.”
Kaja designed the fitness classes to encourage Polish women to socialise and wanted to build their self-esteem as much as their fitness. One month before the AOC competition, she quit her office job to concentrate fully on building a career within fitness: a brave move as she wasn’t earning much money.
The finals of the AoC competition took place on 17-19 November 2016 at the World Skills UK Show at the NEC Arena in Birmingham. The event consisted of two categories: the Personal Trainer category sponsored by Active IQ and the Gym Instructor category sponsored by the YMCA. During the three-day competition, finalists had to complete a series of different tasks and interviews showing their skills and knowledge, as well as bringing a case study client to the event.
“It was such a rewarding experience being among so many other like-minded professionals and I was reassured I was right to take the risk and follow my passion,” said Kaja. “Obviously, being so early on in my career compared to others, it was daunting and I didn’t expect to win. It really came as a complete surprise to me when they announced my name: I was ecstatic.”
Active IQ was so impressed by Kaja, we sponsored her to complete her Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification: Kaja underwent a month’s intensive course with Premier Training International, finishing on Christmas Eve.
“Kaja immediately stood out to us at the AoC Awards: she has a spark of brilliance, an incredible attitude and a natural talent for personal training,” says Laura Sheasby, Active IQ’s Head of Business Development. “When we spoke to her and realised she was being held back because she hadn’t the funds to train as a Level 3 PT in the near future we decided to offer her the intensive course. It was an early Christmas present but I have every confidence in Kaja. She seized the opportunity, studied hard and passed. She is an asset to the fitness industry and the work she plans to do in her local community is incredibly valuable. I wish her luck and will watch her progress with interest.”
“The generosity Active IQ has shown me has been unbelievable and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for believing in me,” says Kaja. “The course itself was brilliant, despite being very full on. The anatomy and posture modules triggered a new passion in me and I’m keen to explore posture correction in more detail. It was a great learning experience, the tutors were really helpful and I made some great friends on the course.
“My transition from my office job to embarking upon a career as a personal trainer is an amazing opportunity and I’m going to work really hard to thank all those who have helped me get here.”
If you would like to learn more about Active IQ’s qualifications and how they can help you take the first steps of your career, then please call us on 0845 688 1278, or get in touch via email.