Catching up with Realtime Champion Doug Zweizig

NCRA 2019 Realtime Contest Champion Doug Zweizig
NCRA 2019 Realtime Contest Champion Doug Zweizig

Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR, of Baltimore, Md., was crowned the 2019 Realtime Contest champion at the NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo. He wrote the two legs of the Realtime Contest, a literary at 200 wpm and testimony at 225 wpm, with an overall 98.4 percent accuracy. The JCR Weekly reached out to Zweizig to learn more about this, his third win in the Realtime Contest.

JCR | Can you tell us a little about your career?
DZ | My first job was as a freelancer in Philadelphia. A great place to learn. I had a lot of variety in the types of work I did. Lots of medical. I next worked in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court (the First Judicial District of PA). Talk about a variety of work. Lots of homicide trials, medical malpractice, mass tort. It was a great place to work and a job I truly loved, but I felt I needed a move. In 2014, I accepted a position with the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Md. My coworkers here are great. They’re extremely supportive of me. But at the end of the day, I’m just another one of the reporters, and I’d have it no other way.

JCR | How long have you been working in the profession?
DZ | Since 1989, so 30 years!
 
JCR | How did you learn about the profession?
DZ | I saw an ad in my hometown newspaper for Central Pennsylvania Business School (now Central Penn College). They had many different programs. I had a travel brochure and court reporting brochure in front of me. I thought that court reporting sounded interesting. My grades in high school, however, were not the best. My mom and I ended up having to go for an interview with the dean and the head of the court reporting program. I think I pretty much talked my way in, and they decided to give me a chance, and I’m so glad they did. It was an extremely difficult program, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I definitely need structure.

JCR | This is your third win. Does it feel like it gets easier? 
DZ | I can only speak for myself when I say, no, it does not get any easier. It’s not easy at all, actually. My first win was kind of a huge surprise to me and a lot of others. For years, I thought perhaps it was a fluke. So that was 2006 and I didn’t compete again until 2009, and I did not do well at all. When you’re a past champion, the pressures are high (both self-imposed and from others). But I’m ultimately human, so state of mind and focus at the time I’m competing plays a big role for me.

JCR | You compete in both the Realtime and Speed Contest. As a participant, what are some of the differences between the two?
DZ | Up until 2012, I’d only ever competed in the Realtime Contest. I never thought I could compete in the Speed Contest. I waited to register for it until literally the last minute. The convention in 2012 was in Philadelphia, where I lived, so I was playing host to many people. I wasn’t getting a lot of rest. And, wow, I placed third in my very first speed contest! Now, that was a shock! I also placed third in the Realtime Contest that year. That was fun and very memorable.

JCR | Do you have a preference on which one you would prefer to win? 
DZ | Well, I’m not complaining about winning the Realtime Contest three times now, but the Speed Contest, yes, I’d love to win it just once. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to give myself a shot at that.

JCR | Do you plan to continue to compete at the national level?
DZ | Sure. Why not? I make myself sick over the contests and overthink constantly. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t do it unless I enjoyed it on some level.

JCR | What motivates you to compete?
DZ | I guess I want to see if I can outdo myself, really. People assume I’ve got all this confidence. I mean, I know that I’m good, but I’ve always been my own worst critic. And I assure you that is not false modesty. It’s the real deal for me.

JCR | What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a contest before? How can they get started?
DZ | Well, I never thought I could compete in national contests. In 2005, I just kind of went and did my thing and got third place. A lot of it is just being in the room and getting a feel for it all. Talking to regular contestants wouldn’t be a bad thing, but until you’ve experienced it yourself, you won’t know for sure. If you’re planning to compete in the Speed Contest, by all means practice speed and not perfection. In my opinion, transcription is a huge part of the Speed Contest; e.g., figuring out misstrokes: “slop,” stacks, split strokes. I have all of the above when I’m writing for pure speed.

If you’re planning to compete in the Realtime Contest, my suggestion is to practice RPR and RMR speeds. Since it’s got to translate correctly, having control of your writing at higher speeds (not as high as for the Speed Contest) is a good thing. The Realtime Contest is rarely ever easy, at least to me. A 225 Q&A is probably nothing for most people with their RMR, but when it has to translate and you won’t be able to edit after, therein lies the pressure! And if you’re planning to compete in both, alternate your practice. I will frequently do a quick switch from a horrendously fast speed take to a realtime take. Being able to switch gears without blinking is a help. That’s something I’ve actually gotten much, much better at, but I’m still a work in progress.

JCR | How far in advance do you begin to practice for the national contests?
DZ | Well, for past contests, maybe a month before, I’d start to do some practice a few times a week. Maybe 10-12 hours total. No, not enough for me now. I have done very well in the past with little to no practice. But practicing every day has been a huge benefit to me. For this year, I actually decided I was going to start to practice in February. I even bought a student writer on eBay to keep at home. Most of the inspiration for beginning my practice regimen on Feb. 25, 2019, was positive; namely, the one and only maestro himself, Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, North Brunswick, N.J. The man lives and breathes steno practice and inspires so many to do just that, including me! He’s just amazing.

Anyway, I decided I was going to practice every single day, and it didn’t matter how busy I was at work. I started off by purchasing a bunch of practice material from the NCRA Store and added it to my library. Keeping a detailed practice log was an absolute necessity for me. This means that I pause between each take so I can note exactly what I’m attempting to write. And I give myself feedback on many of the takes, whether I wrote a perfect paper or a not-so-perfect paper.

I switch from speed to realtime and back again and again and again. They are two very different mind-sets to me. When I’m in “realtime” mode, my focus is usually razor sharp. Sometimes I honestly don’t know how I focus to the degree that I do when writing realtime, but I do (not always successfully).

For speed — and this is where I’m still a work in progress  — I try my best to just get it down because I know I’ll have time to transcribe it. I don’t punctuate as much. Writing for pure speed requires a lot of focus too, but it’s different to me. Sometimes I’ll look down at my hands on purpose just so I can realize how truly fast they are moving. I also started to sometimes listen to high-speed takes in the car. Some of the speed takes are so fast to me that I have trouble processing them in my brain so that I’m hitting the correct keystrokes.

JCR | Has your win affected you in any way? 
DZ | It’s been pretty crazy since it happened. I was going through a lot emotionally immediately before the contests. My cat of 20 years  — yes, 20 years  — Jasper started to go downhill shortly before Denver. I had to make the extremely difficult decision, the day before I left for Denver, to take away his pain, and I did just that. It was the least I could do for him. I was a mess, to say the very least. And it was no one’s fault except my own, of course, but the very first leg of the Speed Contest was about cats. I think that was in the first or second sentence. And that was it for me on the Speed Contest. But, ironically enough, the literary is the leg I qualified on. Go figure.

So I knew I had to pull it together for the Realtime Contest the following day. I’m pretty sure many people were chatting about what I was going through at the time (I know it made the rounds). I mean, we all go through things, but this was particularly difficult for me. I’m still getting e-mails from people asking advice. I only wish I had a “formula,” but it’s a combination of things for me.

JCR | Anything else you would like to share? 
DZ | Don’t underestimate yourself. I never thought I’d ever compete, much less win. I underestimated myself for years, but events were set in motion that caused me to start to compete, and was I ever surprised! I don’t always win and I don’t always do well, but that won’t stop me from trying.