A single mum who was inspired by her boxer grandfather has battled against the odds to make it to the top of her profession.

University of Sunderland graduate Aimee Appleby was determined she wanted to devote her career to helping others after she witnessed first-hand her boxer granddad suffer a life-changing stroke.

Despite having few qualifications and a young son, the determined mum single-handedly put herself through university before embarking on the career she dreamed of.

Now, the Sports Science graduate, has fulfilled her ambition after helping injured soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as some of the country’s most promising young fighters.

Aimee, 36, of Seaham, County Durham, said: “I had my son at 19, I was a single mum and I didn’t have the qualifications needed to get into university.”

Aimee, mum to Lucca, 16, and Orla, five, said: “I had always been interested in the fitness industry but it was my grandad who really inspired me.”

But after completing an access course, Aimee applied and was accepted on a Sports Science programme at the University – the first step on her road to success.

Gene Devlin was the British Army’s Boxing Champion in 1948. From Seaham, he would go on to turn professional and make a name for himself in the fighting world.

Gene Devlin

But to his family, Gene had always been a winner. Head of the family, he was devoted to his children and grandchildren, including Aimee.

Tragically, when Aimee was just 13, her grandfather suffered a massive stroke and lost use of the right-side of his body.

Gene’s stroke and subsequent effort at recovery had a defining impact on Aimee who watched as the once physically strong athlete struggled on.

“It was then that I knew I wanted to be a physiotherapist,” said Aimee. “Sitting holding my granddad’s hand, seeing how strong he was despite everything, really inspired me.”

Sunderland University graduate Aimee Appleby owner of Reform 2 Perform pilates studio in Seaham Picture: DAVID WOOD

Through an access course, Aimee was accepted on the three-year Sports Science programme at the University in 2004. She would later go on to achieve an MSc in Physiotherapy.

Sadly, Gene died on June 3, 2010, after seeing his granddaughter achieve her dream.

In 2013 Amy began working with injured military service personnel, first in Edinburgh, and later at RAF Boulmer and Catterick in North Yorkshire.

In between her work, Aimee decided to take son Lucca along to a boxing class in East Durham ran by coach David Binns.

“I’d done some boxing when I was younger and I wanted Lucca to get involved,” said Aimee. “When we got there, I was talking to Dave and asked if I could train too.”

Through her training with David, Aimee became involved in acting as physio to high-profile North East boxer and Durham super-lightweight, Darren Surtees.

Sunderland University graduate Aimee Appleby owner of Reform 2 Perform pilates studio in Seaham Picture: DAVID WOOD

“If nothing else, I hope my story shows young women that they can still fulfil their career ambitions no matter what obstacles they might be facing. Even though I’m now working, I’m still learning all the time, still developing and still remembering those survival traits my grandad had – they inspire every day to get better.”

Never one to stand still, Aimee has now started her own business – Reform-2-Perform – at Seaham Marina, the place she and her grandad always used to visit together. Specialising in Pilates, physiotherapy, acupuncture and sports massage, Aimee opened her business in July this year.

Dr David Archer, Senior Lecturer in Sports and Exercise Sciences at the University of Sunderland, said: “Aimee was a great student to teach, very able, dedicated and well-organised, managing the juggling act of studying full time and being a mum.

“We were very happy to see her go onto greater things. She deserves every success she has had.”

Aimee added: “I’m grateful to the University for giving me the opportunity to start my Sports Science degree, otherwise I would never be where I am today.”

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