College of Health and Human Performance

Celebrating Love

Exploring two loving relationships that blossomed within the College of Health and Human Performance

Celebrating Love

February 13, 2024

By Tiffany Fang

Mariana Franz & Austin Unger 

Mariana Franz, a second-year applied physiology and kinesiology student at the University of Florida, excitedly walked into the College of Human Health and Performance (HHP). This time, something was different because she wasn’t just a student; she was a newly-welcomed HHP Student Ambassador. It was time to meet the rest of the ambassadors, and after a few brief introductions, the group started off with an icebreaker. All of the new student ambassadors gathered in a circle, ready to get to know each other. The rules of the icebreaker were simple: toss the ball to someone across from you and say their name.

A few of the ambassadors tossed the ball around, and once the ball reached Mariana, she turned to the first person in front of her.

A bit nervous, she tossed the ball to him. “Dustin,” she said confidently. 

He caught the ball and looked at her with amusement. “It’s Austin, actually.” They had a good laugh and continued the rest of orientation.

A few weeks later, she was waiting to give a tour to a faculty member when Austin came up to her. “I think you’re in my physics class,” he told her. The faculty member was running late, so Mariana and Austin were able to talk for a while. They realized that they actually shared quite a few of the same classes together. Both applied physiology and kinesiology (APK) students, their interests were very much aligned.

Through countless group projects and their shared occupations as HHP Student Ambassadors, Mariana and Austin were able to grow close and form a strong friendship. The two of them worked incredibly well together through their shared passion for APK and were very involved within the college. Their relationship was unique in that their time spent together was abundant, even while being full-time students since the time they spent together was both in the classroom and outside; together, they also volunteered at Camp Boggy Creek for kids with health issues.

Mariana (middle) and Austin (second to left) volunteering at Camp Boggy Creek

Later in their college careers, Austin and Mariana became president and vice president of the Undergraduate Physical Therapy Association. Even though they had already worked closely in classes and other activities, this specific experience allowed the two of them to work more closely than before and they were able to effectively push the organization forward together. 

Undergrad Physical Therapy Association when Mariana was VP and Austin was president

The two graduated in the Class of 2017 and decided to embark on a new journey by enrolling in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program together. Still very close friends, their shared experiences as undergraduate APK students allowed them to share their lives with each other while remaining focused on their passions. Halfway through PT school, they realized that their compassion for each other was more than just friendship. Their four-year friendship blossomed into a beautiful, long-lasting relationship that would lead them to share the rest of their lives together.

Mariana and Austin celebrate their graduation from the physical therapy program (May 2020)

They most recently got engaged on November 4, 2023, in front of the Florida Gym during the Florida Gators vs. Arkansas game. Back in 2020, the couple had purchased a brick in support of the HHP Brick Program but were unable to see it due to the restrictions of the coronavirus. During the game, Austin insisted on seeing the brick with Mariana. Unaware of his intentions, Mariana pushed back a few times before finally giving in.

“Fine, I’ll go see the brick with you,” she told him reluctantly.

They walked toward the college, looking for their brick. When they finally found the brick, she turned her head back to say something to Austin and saw him kneeling on the ground on one knee. They revealed the engagement to their professors and received the same response: “I knew it from the start.” After all, when the two were in undergrad together, many faculty members hinted at them being more than friends. Their wedding is to be held in 2025.

Engagement pictures in front of the College of Health and Human Performance (November 2023)

Currently, Mariana and Austin reside in Atlanta. They were both hired at Benchmark Therapy at the same time and have since become clinic directors in just under two years. Mariana’s additional desire to teach and guide the next generation of physical therapists lead her to teach at Georgia State University for the past year and a half.

Mariana reflects on her experience and the role that HHP played in both her professional and personal life. Being a student ambassador, working in the dean’s office and the research labs made her feel incredibly connected to the college community. She not only met “the one,” but also formed incredibly close relationships with all of her professors, including both the associate dean and dean. It was an authentic experience that allowed her to form countless connections. Her advice to current students is to keep an open mind and push to expose yourself to different experiences and involvement because it’s the people you meet along the way who shape who you are.

Chris Sato & Chelsea Robalino 

Chelsea Robalino, a freshman math and statistics student, was walking to meet up with a few friends for lunch. She reached the bottom of the hall within her freshman dormitory, Beaty Towers, and briefly spoke to a freshman business and sport management student, Christopher Sato, a man she would not have guessed to be her future husband. The two of them chatted for a bit and were suddenly interrupted by Chris’s roommate (future best man and godfather of their child), Mack, coming out the elevator with no shoes on. The two looked at each other and shook their heads lightheartedly. 

They waited for a few more friends to arrive, and the group went to grab food at the Reitz Union. Chris had quite a few friends from high school, and Chelsea was happy to meet new people. Another time, only a few days later, Chris’s friend Ravi invited Chelsea to hang out with him, Chris, and the rest of their friends. When Chris saw Chelsea again, his first thought was towards Ravi: “How did you trick this girl to come hang out with us?” 

A few weeks later, when all of their friends were out of town, Chris and Chelsea got to know each other more closely when hiking at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park together, an activity they’d continue throughout their relationship. 

Over their first two years of college, Chris and Chelsea became incredibly close friends. They often hung out within the friend group, but their closeness allowed them to truly enjoy each others’ company one on one as well. 

Although Chelsea’s journey was not in HHP, Chris’s relationship with his peers and connection and passion for sport management made a large impact on his college experience and has led him to where he is today. Having grown up playing soccer and sports, specifically, watching the NFL, Chris knew he wanted to pursue a career related to sports. He had decided to study both sport management and business administration to get “the best of both worlds.”

His love for sports also inspired Chelsea to surprise him with tickets to an Orlando Magic basketball game early in their friendship. To surprise him, Chelsea had texted him, asking him to list all of his favorite sports in order, hoping to reveal the tickets immediately after. 

As Chelsea read the text he sent, she was met with surprise as her eyes scanned the last sport listed on his list: basketball. "I thought they were all the same," she thought in the moment. Nonetheless, he happily accepted the invite, and the two enjoyed a great night at the Orlando Magic basketball game. 

Chris and Chelsea at the Orlando Magic basketball game (2015) 

Although Chris was pursuing two majors at UF, he felt that he was able to connect more with his fellow peers who also studied sport management. His related coursework in sport management was incredibly valuable and applicable to his role as a competitive sports program assistant at the Department of Recreational Sports which shaped him and his future career. Through the role, he was able to combine his business skills along with his interest in sports to coordinate and manage various intramural sport leagues. He also supervised the recruitment and onboarding process of intramural staff members and executed single- and multi-day “flash” tournaments in various sports.

Chris also embarked on some great experiences through the college, particularly when he participated in a program organized by the Qatari Sports Federation located in Los Angeles. The program, organized by Michael Sagas, Ed.D., professor in sport management, flew Chris to Los Angeles free of charge, where he was able to attend the opening ceremony of the 2016 Special Olympics, as well as tour facilities such as the Arena and the Dodgers stadium. Additionally, being able to intern at the Florida High School Athletic Association allowed him to contribute to championship events across the state. Overall, Chris was incredibly involved in extracurricular activities and strongly pursued his passion for sport management.

Chris and Chelsea celebrating their graduation (2017) 

Chris and Chelsea graduated in 2017, having dated for a little under a year and a half at this point. The two wanted to pursue higher degrees at different colleges, with Chris pursuing his Master of Science in Kinesiology, Sport Management and Policy at the University of Georgia and Chelsea pursuing a Master of Statistics with a Biostatistics concentration at North Carolina State University. They dated long distance for two years, driving around five hours to visit every month. During holidays, they were able to spend a large amount of time with each other as both of their hometowns reside in Tampa, Florida. Shortly after they graduated from their master’s programs, they moved up to Fairfax, Virginia when Chris received an opportunity to work as the coordinator of competitive sports, camps, and special events for the recreation department at George Mason University in 2019. A few months later, Chelsea landed a position as Associate Biostatistician at Emmes located in Rockville, Maryland.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the couple continued their hiking adventures, especially with their newfound love for the various mountain hiking trails in the northeast. They often hiked with just themselves, but also invited friends to come with them time to time, which became a helpful tool for Chris when he decided to propose to Chelsea on a hiking trip a year later.

Chris bought an engagement ring in 2020, knowing he wanted to propose to Chelsea sometime soon. The couple had been dating for about five years at this point, and Chelsea would jokingly ask, “When is this happening?”

Because it was still in the thick of winter, Chris decided to wait for the weather to get warmer before moving his plan forward. Four months later, in April, the weather was finally warm enough, and Chris reached out to one of Chelsea’s friends and asked her to invite her and Chris on a hike. The day that her friend had suggested going hiking was forecasted to rain, so Chelsea hesitated to confirm. Fortunately, the skies were clear that day, and the three of them were able to hike at Shenandoah National Park.

Chris had hidden the ring in the hiking backpack before they left, but he took it out and pocketed it away mid-hike when Chelsea was not looking. It was lucky that he had done so, as Chelsea was digging through the bag when they stopped for lunch a mere five minutes later. Chris reached the overlook first, getting down on one knee. Chelsea and her friend were a few steps behind, and as they walked out, Chelsea was shocked, unaware of Chris’s intentions throughout the entire hike. She said yes, and her friend was able to catch it all on camera.

From hiking when they first met at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park to getting engaged at the top of Shenandoah National Park, it was truly a beautiful full-circle moment.

Chris and Chelsea's engagement at Shenandoah Park (2021) 

They got married that same year on their dating anniversary date (December 11, 2021), at the Bethany Center, a Catholic retreat center located in Tampa, Florida.

Wedding pictures at the Bethany Center (2021)

Around a year later, the couple welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world. He was described as a very energetic baby, constantly kicking while Chelsea was pregnant, but no crying or screaming at all as a baby (very “chill,” if you will). The two hope that their son will continue the Gator legacy. They are currently enjoying all the perks of being new parents. Last Christmas was the first Christmas they spent as a family of three and was also the day Chelsea gifted Chris a brick in support of the HHP Brick Program. 

Chris, Chelsea and their son celebrating Christmas as a family of three (2023) 

Most recently, Chris took on the role of senior financial analyst with the George Mason University (GMU) College of Engineering and Computing. Chris’s experience as a student at HHP inspired him to take on the role as an adjunct faculty member this this spring in GMU's School of Sport, Recreation, and Tourism Management by teaching the Foundations of Campus Recreation course to undergraduate students. His advice to current students is to make the most of the four years of college, to take advantage of all the free events and having friends close by, and to overall explore everything that one’s college town has to offer.

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