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Physiotherapy student runner-up in UniDays Student Woman of the Year competition

Published: 29 April 2022

Emily Hale 1

First year Physiotherapy student Emily Hale has finished as runner-up in UniDays Student Woman of the Year competition. The competition celebrates entrepreneurial female students who are running impactful businesses alongside their degree. As runner-up, Emily has been awarded £1,000 to help with the development of her company Build & Breathe Scoliosis which provides accessible fitness to those with chronic conditions. 

Emily explains, “When I was 14, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, meaning my spine bent sideways into an S shape. I had major spinal surgery a year later and now my spine is completely fused together from vertebrae T5 to L4. I’ve always been an active person, but exercise classes aren’t very accessible when you can’t bend your spine - I’m like a human kebab! I often found that scares fitness instructors, which left me embarrassed and excluded.  

“So, we founded Build & Breathe Scoliosis to fill that gap and provide accessible fitness to those with chronic conditions. We offer live group classes, personal training and an on-demand library with 100+ pre-recorded sessions specifically tailored to those with scoliosis and spinal fusion. 

“I like to say we’ve created the support I wish I’d had when my surgery took place. We have supported hundreds of individuals in their scoliosis journey, both physically and emotionally, by encouraging movement, building communities and arming individuals with the tools to self-manage their condition.  

“The people involved in the company deserve to be in the spotlight too. We have a wonderful team of four instructors who all live with scoliosis or a spinal fusion, and each has their own story to tell. The community that has grown around Build & Breathe has also been incredible. Learning about such strong and tenacious individuals who have overcome an incredibly tough time in their lives pushes us forwards every day. 

“It’s been a tough learning curve to balance what is effectively two full time jobs in working and studying! I’ve learnt to constantly adjust the amount of work I take on outside of my degree as that has to be the ultimate focus. 

“That’s meant coming to terms with the company cruising for a little bit. It’s hard to stomach as I know it means we aren’t reaching people who need support or who are struggling with their backs, but I am lucky to have an incredible team supporting me. Our instructors are our biggest cheerleaders, as well as our lovely intern Lily who manages marketing, and my mum who manages a huge amount behind-the-scenes for us. This would have been impossible without them. 

“Studying at St George’s has been such a positive experience – I’ve found studying within a hospital and being in a clinical environment to be the best part. Everyone has a healthcare background which provides a professional environment that I believe is preparing us perfectly for life after university. St George’s has been a wonderfully supportive environment and it has made a huge difference to my time studying 

“I also know that in the long term studying means the quality of support we can offer through Build & Breathe will be so much better. Every day I learn something new in my degree that I can apply to my company – whether it’s about understanding the social and psychological impacts of health or a new balance exercise. I’m able to bring my learning into our pilates classes or share knowledge with the team that enables us to provide better support to our class members. 

“Personally, I’ve grown hugely as a person since starting my degree. My confidence has shone through and I’ve noticed this has had a great impact on my teaching style. I’m excited to see where I’ll be in a couple of years!” 

In terms of the UniDays competition, Emily explains what the application process involved.  

“We had to create a 60 second video about Build & Breathe, showcasing how we have been breaking boundaries, and outlining our plans for how we would spend any grants we may receive to further our impact were we successful in the competition. We followed this up with links to blogs and social media showcasing what Build & Breathe does. You can watch our application at

“We’re not completely sure exactly what we will spend the £1,000 on yet, but it will be used to reach more people in the scoliosis community. Scoliosis awareness month is coming up which would be good timing to do this!” 

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