Normally ASAP Sports stenographer Toni Christy does her job in complete anonymity. She transcribes words from athletes in news conferences in an unseen area away from all the flashing lights, and finishes the job in less than 30 minutes. After each event she'll quietly put away her $5,000 steno machine, trot off to have a glass of wine and reflect on the day's events.
All that changed last week during the NCAA men's basketball tournament when the curiosity of Nigel Hayes and a couple of Wisconsin men's basketball players thrust her and her profession into the national spotlight.
Like a trio of schoolchildren, they started peppering the woman responsible for transcribing their quotes with questions about how stenography works. Then, they started punching the keys on her machine to see what they would produce.
"Whoa!" yelled Hayes, when his name popped up on the screen. "You got me!"
Even coach Bo Ryan ducked back through the curtains to get the low-down on the stenography trade before ushering his boys back to the locker room.
Since then an unlikely relationship of stenographer and hooper has formed, and so has America's fascination with stenography. Hayes also discovered that in pressers, the mic is always hot, whether he's saying funny words to trip up the stenographer or making remarks about someone's beauty. We caught up with the woman known as "The Stenographer" to learn more about that moment, how life has changed since her encounter with the Badgers and the secret behind stenographer superpowers.
espnW: Take me back to that moment when Nigel Hayes and the Wisconsin Badgers discovered you and your craft.
Toni Christy: Well, Dawn (a news conference microphone holder) came up to me and said, "Would you be willing to share with them what you do?" They looked like they were really curious about it. I was focused on the interview so I did not notice that and I said, "Sure, I'll show them how it works," but in my mind I was thinking they're never going to come out here. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I see that curtain open and they came leaping out [laughter]. I mean running, and then there comes Coach Ryan along with them. They just got behind me and started peppering me with questions.
espnW: That's cool and all, but weren't they disturbing you?
TC: No, we had just finished the press conference, so we were done and I was sitting there gathering up my notes and getting ready to shut everything down. That's when she asked me, would I be willing to show them and I said sure, so I was just finishing.
espnW: I have to admit, what you do is pretty amazing and stenographers are like typing angels for people in my profession. How long does it take you to transcribe an average press conference?
TC: Let's say the press conference is 20 minutes, then what we say is we have 20 minutes to get it out. ASAP Sports' motto is, "When all is said, we're done."
espnW: So you're basically a human Siri. How fast can you actually type?
TC: In order to start court reporting at the college that I went to, you had to type, I believe, 160 words a minute on that typewriter cleanly, with very few errors. On our Steno machine we typed about -- it's a range -- but 260 words a minute is probably about it. That might be a little bit on the high end, but that's probably about where I'm at.
espnW: But what are your texting skills like?
TC: Before people texted we used to use AOL instant messaging a lot more a few years ago. A couple of my friends from Seattle told me, "I don't like to IM you because I can't keep up and you just fire messages at me. [Laughter] It's intimidating."
espnW: What has life been like since Nigel and the Badgers discovered you and you become somewhat of a viral star?
TC: Well, people have recognized me, which is totally weird.
TC: After the event [me and my scopist partner] were sitting there having a glass of wine, and Lewis Johnson from CBS came over and he said, "Are you the stenographer?" [laughter], and I said, "Yes." He shook my hand and we had a great conversation. He's such a nice guy. My scopist friend said, "You know she's on Twitter." Two minutes later I have a follower, Lewis Johnson. That was pretty cool.
espnW: How about Nigel, I saw he sent you a couple of tweets but have you spoken to him since?
TC: He stopped by when we were passing at the arena the other night and popped into the interview room to say goodbye to us and I said, "Oh my god, Nigel." He put out his hand to shake my hand and I said, "You know what, I'm a mom and I got two boys your age. I'm a hugger." He said, "I'm sorry if I caused you guys any problems." I said, "Are you kidding me? You helped to shine a light on a profession that most people don't even know about. What you did, it was all good and I am very proud of you." I told him, I said, "You're an articulate, very well-spoken young man and your parents should be very proud of you, which I'm sure they are," and I wished him good luck in this.
espnW: That was very nice of him. But it wasn't too nice of him to shoot out those crazy-hard words like "onomatopoeia" during the presser, right?
TC: I had an intuition that one of them was going to come out that day and try to trip me up. Once they see what you do and how it works, then people like to do that. I was prepared for it so it didn't really throw me, but I can tell you I didn't have those in my dictionary.
espnW: Other than kick ass at sports press conferences, how else do you use your stenographer super powers?
TC: I also do computer-aided, real-time transcription. What it really means is we write to a URL for the hearing impaired. This morning I have a student in Tennessee going to school there, a college student. She mics her professor and I am listening to him via Skype and write his lecture for her. She has her laptop in class and she has it on the URL that I'm writing to so she can see and read everything that he's saying.
espnW: So stenographers are fast, accurate and work in a team. This sounds like playing sports.
TC: It's very much that way, yes.
espnW: If you had to pick a sports duo, what sport duo would you be?
TC: Oh, I don't know, maybe like tennis doubles, because one person might be up front, so they're taking most balls that they can get to, but the one in the back they're waiting for the ones that that front person is not going to get, and you really can't do your job without your teammate. That's basically it in a nutshell. You have to be there and have each other's back. It's very much like a sport. I played sports growing up and it's very much that way. You have to be on the same page and you have to be in sync with each other, if you want to produce a really great transcript and produce it fast.
espnW: Do you play any sports?
TC: I played basketball, that was my first love. Softball and we can say I ran track, but [chuckles]. I just went out for track because I grew up in Iowa. Our coach was the same coach for all three sports, and those were the only three sports for girls. If you didn't run track, you didn't get to play basketball [chuckles]. You were on the pine [laughter].
espnW: What did you learn from sports that translates into your career as a sports stenographer?
TC: I totally credit my coach from high school ... what he taught me got me through court-reporting school. Because it takes dedication. It takes commitment. It took everything I had to get through, and I was 26 when I went to that program. The maturity and the discipline to know that if I didn't practice, just like in basketball, I wasn't going to make it.
espnW: Where do you think you got your love for sports that eventually translated into you covering games for a living?
TC: My dad was an honorable mention, All-American football player. We just grew up in it, a very sports-oriented household. And I think I just gravitated toward it and I loved it. My life without sports would be very empty. I am a huge sports fan. I broadcast captioned a lot of the Padres' games for years. I stopped doing that because I wanted to do some other stuff, but wherever there's sports or whatever is going on on ESPN, I'm paying attention, I'm listening.
espnW: What is your favorite event to cover?
TC: Every year I go do the MLB playoffs, so I've gotten to know all of the baseball arenas or stadiums or whatever you want to call them, and the people there. When you go to an event like that you see the same faces, they're there. Like St. Louis, Busch Stadium, I've been there several times. I walk in and they're the same ushers that are there around our interview room and you're like, "Hey, how you doing? Yeah, we're back for another year." It's fun and, yeah, I love doing MLB playoffs. This year the Orioles were in it, and my son lives in Baltimore so I got to go and I got to bring him to a game. It was just phenomenal. The feeling at events like that: the NBA Finals, the MLB playoffs, it's that excitement in the air that is just adrenaline rushing.
espnW: So are you traveling to any more games for the tournament?
TC: I'm done traveling. You can bet your booty that I will be on a TV watching how things unfold, because in my house I'm the one that fights to watch ESPN.