Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Declining Apprentice invite was a gamble worth taking for new graduate

Turning down the chance to appear on the BBC hit show ‘The Apprentice’ was a massive gamble for a young Crossmaglen student, but it paid dividends when she graduated with honours from University of Plymouth on Friday last, as part of the first cohort of her five-year degree course in Dentistry.

Sarah Armstrong can rest assured she made the right decision as, not content with immersing herself in her studies, she has established her own fitness and personal training business, as well as regularly playing on the Irish national netball team and taking to the football field with her local club Crossmaglen Rangers GFC – all while undertaking her challenging degree course across the water.

Sarah says she has always had a passion for sport and promised herself she would continue to enjoy it alongside her university studies.

“I think there’s a perception the dental students do so much study that there’s no time for anything else, but I’m proof that that isn’t true,” she told The Examiner.  “With such a challenging course I made a commitment to life on campus to ensure a good work leisure balance and throughout my time at university, I became heavily involved within the Netball Club as first team captain, coach and named sportswoman of the year. 

“Outside of uni, I balanced life in England, including part time jobs, with returning home to represent Netball Ireland – the Irish national netball team – and/or Crossmaglen Rangers in County Armagh at football. I’ve always been sporty and I’m very into fitness and nutrition.”

As her studies progressed, Sarah took the plunge and set up her own fitness and nutrition business, close to her native home in Crossmaglen.

“In my third year of study I began thinking about my passion and love of sport – how could I involve this more in my life? During my third year, I completed qualifications within the fitness and nutrition industry and developed a business plan for [her new venture] ‘Strong Fitness’, a health, fitness and wellness service in County Armagh.”

As a result of her success, she was faced with making a huge decision that could potentially determine her future.

“I applied for The Apprentice, passed the interviews and was offered the show but an intense learning and placement schedule meant I couldn’t move to do the filming for 12 weeks,” Sarah explained.  “Although I was gutted, I was determined to balance my love of sport with my passion for dentistry, and looking back, the show application was kind of where it all started. 

“Granted, what set out to be a summer job [Strong Fitness], soon grew much bigger than I could ever have imagined. Suddenly September had arrived and fourth year was calling.  So staff were hired for Strong Fitness and off I went back to Plymouth trying to manage everything from afar.  By December of the same year, I started providing similar services in Cornwall and Plymouth whilst the brand at home grew bigger by the day. Strong Fitness has just celebrated its second successful year with new premises, a weekly timetable of classes and over fifty members to date.”

The epitome of success, Sarah has high recommendations for her university course and the support she received: “As well as running my own business and competing in sport, I’m so pleased with my time as a student. I have nothing but high praise for how the BDS course was developed, delivered and executed. I have never felt so prepared to enter the working world thanks to the staff and colleagues within the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. I enjoyed the early clinical exposure and spiral curriculum – this ensured a solid foundation of knowledge was gained whilst our clinical skills had time to grow stronger and stronger.”

Sarah will commence work in September as a foundation dentist based in Kilkeel and says she is excited about her future career: “In terms of my future in the dental world, I hope it will involve paediatrics and holistic healthcare. I think my ultimate challenge will be how to juggle these professions and perhaps marry them together in some way. I have come to realise that over the course of university life you should always follow your passions – and I’m proud that this is what I’m continuing to do.”