02 Apr Nina Rafeek Dow – Sports Injury Entrepreneur Turned Corporate Communications Professional
I first met Nina when we were working at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. I always knew she had an interesting and unique background. But it was great to dive even deeper and explore the ups, and downs, of switching from entrepreneurship and a flourishing Sports Injury Therapy practice, to returning to full time school and carving out a career in Corporate Communications.
I know that you began your career as a Personal Trainer, but how did you get into that initially?
I was working as a receptionist in a gym and I saw people on the gym floor, training other people. I had no idea that you could get paid for that and I was super interested. So I took the canfitpro certification. It took a couple months and I had some mentors at the gym who helped me along.
Soon after though I became a sports injury therapist. I started to see that my clients were getting injured, and I didn’t really know how to address it. That’s when I got into training in sports. Injury therapy, and that was a three year course.
Were you working for a company or doing your own thing?
At first I was working for a few companies, and then after I opened my own practice in 2009. I officially closed up shop in 2016.
What motivated your decision to close shop?
Well I first started my Health Sciences degree, out of pure interest and to open up the option of pursuing a Masters in Physiotherapy. But after taking a few English courses I became really interested in that. Then at the same time I injured my back randomly from a running injury – I was running half marathons at the time. My back was just not healing because of the physical work I was doing. So I decided to start school full time and do the Sports Therapy work part time to financially support my schooling.
When was the first time you thought about writing in some fashion as a profession?
It would be back in high school but I was discouraged because a lot of people said ‘you’re not going to get a job with an English degree’ and I listened. That was a big mistake.
So then what made it different this second time around?
Just the pure you know, love for what I was doing, and having faith that it would all work out.
Because I’m sure the same people were saying the same things the second time around.
100% they were. I did know French, I was in French immersion [in school]. I thought that in the worst case scenario, I could get a bilingual job because I knew those were high in demand. But I had no idea what I was going to do with an English degree. I just knew I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to let the fact that I wasn’t sure how I was going to make money with this degree stop me from pursuing it.
What was it like going back to school, after you’ve worked for a few years, especially after having the ownership and independence of your own company?
It was brutal. I was at the age where people are getting married, they’re travelling, they’re having kids and really enjoying the fruits of the labour that they have put in. And here I am with my nose in a book. But I was just so into it. It was lonely, I didn’t really know anybody who had done the same thing [going back to school]. So I built a support system within my friends and family who supported me a lot. And by year two, I just decided to make friends. I was shy because a lot of the people in my class were in their early 20s and I was in my early 30s. But I got over that and made wonderful friends that I still have today.
I don’t want to brush over your background because you have a strong background in communications. Do you want to give an overview of that?
Sure, after I graduated from U of T I actually completed a Masters of Journalism at Western, and then went on to complete an internship at CP24. I was a production intern for Breakfast Television but the internship wasn’t paid, so I also got a gig doing copywriting at OLIVER agency part time and [after my internship ended in July] was freelance reporting for Beach Metro News.
My first role in communications was for WE Charity, but I was still doing freelance copywriting and reporting, just taking everything I can get. From WE Charity I went on to MaRS Discovery District and now I’m here [Toronto Metropolitan University]. I’ve been in the communications field professionally for five years now.
What a grind it must have been for you, especially.
Yeah, it was a grind. But WE Charity was an entry level communications role in a nonprofit, and I was in my mid 30s. I had commitments that your average person at an entry level job probably wouldn’t have had.
Were you feeling empowered, hopeful for the future? Or were you like ‘what have I done’?
There were a few WTF moments because I was feeling the pressure of having to sacrifice all those years and time and money. But I was driven by the pure love of the work. And I knew it was what I definitely wanted to do. There was still a tension there [initially], but that broke when I started at MaRS Discovery District because my salary increased significantly, and the work was more in line with what I trained for in school. At that point I thought, I’m on to something, I’m getting somewhere.
Currently you’re a Communications and Marketing Specialist at Toronto Metropolitan University? Can you give me a ‘day in the life’?
Every day is really different. I could start my morning prepping a media release, or reading a release and reaching out to journalists to cover a report or event that we’re doing. Then maybe proofreading a newsletter that somebody wrote, putting up something on social media or coordinating the execution of the communications plan. I will say even though every day is different a lot of my time is spent on strategic planning and writing.
What if someone out there wants to make a career switch into an industry similar to yours. What would be your advice?
You might want to make a plan, and that would be great. But as you learn and discover new things on your journey, be prepared to readjust as you go along. The whole thing might seem daunting at first, but just focus on taking the first step: whether it’s booking an information call for a course you’re interested in, or talking to someone in the field. If you do plan on going back to school full time, it might help to have a financial plan and know how you’re going to manage that. But don’t cut corners – commit yourself to getting the best training out there so you don’t hit any walls later on. If you’re not sure, do some volunteer work with some nonprofits and see how you like it.
Do you have any advice or feedback for the people that are thinking about making a career switch but also face discouragement from others or pressure from society?
I think it’s important to trust yourself. Know that any negative opinions coming from other people is most likely a projection of how they feel or how they view life. Usually those people who have strong negative opinions are those who actually have been thinking about it, but can’t make it happen. A lot of people are projecting that onto you, and it’s happened to me a lot. My advice would be to keep your head down and keep moving forward.
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