Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, a freelance reporter based in Franklin, Tenn., was crowned the 2023 NCRA Speed Contest winner. She placed third in the Literary, with 6 errors (99.455% accuracy); fifth in the Legal Opinion, with 24 errors (97.913%); and first in the Q&A, with only 8 errors (99.429%). While it is her first time with an overall win, Nilsen has previously placed second overall in 2019 and in 2018.
JCR | Can you tell us a little about your career?
PN | I’ve been reporting since 1995. I started out freelancing in Binghamton, N.Y., and then went on to the Bahamas. I got the international bug for a while and then went to England and Ireland and did some court work, American depositions, and a big government tribunal about Irish hemophiliacs getting hepatitis and AIDS from imported American blood product. The tribunal lasted almost two years. I met my American husband in Ireland, so we relocated to New York, where I worked at the federal court in Manhattan for almost 15 years before relocating to Tennessee.
Now I am a fully independent freelancer. I try to do only realtime work, so I split my workload between Tennessee and some remote realtime in other states where I’m licensed.
JCR | How did you learn about the profession?
PN | I had a typing teacher, Gail Nahs, who thought I should compete in a typing contest at Alfred State College when I was a freshman in high school. My campus tour guide was a court reporting student (who in recent years I figured out was Meredith Bonn, RPR, CRR!) who made it sound like it was just what I was looking for. I also liked that I was a freshman and didn’t have to think about what I wanted to do with my life for the rest of high school!
JCR | What prompted you to participate in the Contests? What do you like about competing?
PN | I’m more of a “why not” person when it comes to trying things, so I don’t actually remember what prompted me to try my first one sometime early in the 2000s. It might have actually been one of the first Conferences I attended, so I was probably just going for the whole experience. I went with a friend to the Conference, so I hadn’t really learned the art of networking and probably didn’t really talk to any of the competitors. Now I really like being a part of that community, as everyone who competes is the type of reporter who is constantly bettering themselves, so there’s always more to learn from them.
JCR | Do you practice for the Contests? If so, what is that like?
PN | I do practice for the Contests. I use a combination of [dictation from] past Contests and EV360. I love EV360 because you can speed things up by 50 wpm. But I like doing old Contests, even if I’ve heard them before, just so I am used to the Contest speeds in their pure form. This year was a total anomaly because about a month before the contest I had a ton of crazy things going on in my life. I knew that something had to give, so I stopped practicing completely. I was on about three weeks of vacation before the test, so I wasn’t even on my machine for work much. Whereas, in the two years that I got second place I’d practiced every single day for months before the Contest, I think just letting go this year was what I needed mentally.
JCR | What advice would you give to other contestants?
PN | Have fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. At the end of the day, if you’re able to even qualify to compete, you’re likely a rock star in the real-life reporting world. Try to meet the other contestants, and you’ll likely want to come back.
JCR | Do you plan to continue to compete at the national level?
PN | I’m not an every-single-year-type girl, especially now that I finally got “the prize.” When I kept getting second, I knew I would probably keep doing it until I finally got first. Now I think it will depend on where the Contest is held and what else is going on in my life at the time.
I also think it’s very difficult to practice for speed if you want to do well on the realtime, because they’re two completely different mindsets; and if your default autopilot contest mode is speed, you’re going to lose a little something in realtime when the dictation gets tough. Someday I might want to focus on just the realtime.
JCR | Do you have a favorite story from being a part of the Contests?
PN | There was one year in San Francisco when my husband was a court reporter as well. We had two toddlers aged 2 and 4 with us. We tag-teamed watching them in the room, so he did Conference all morning, and then I literally walked downstairs at Contest time to do the Realtime Contest after being locked in a hotel room with two screaming toddlers for four hours. I had all my practice dictation on my phone, which I had to turn over at the door, so I had nothing to practice. I somehow managed to qualify, though with a placing that wasn’t memorable. I don’t recommend that as a Contest day ritual.
JCR | What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a Contest before? How can they get started?
PN | I recommend not practicing for your first Contest. That way you walk in with no pressure, nothing to lose, everything to gain, and you’ll know where your natural skills are and what/how to practice for the next time. And you’ll meet a lot of other people who have been competing for longer than you have who will also have kind and supportive words.
JCR | Has your win affected you in any way?
PN | I got on the front page of the paper in the bigger town over from the town I grew up in. I’m a small-town girl so those things actually mean a lot to me. Ann Rathbun, a girl who graduated from my high school before I did, who I’d never met, who is also a court reporter in Pennsylvania, cut it out and sent it in the mail to me with a nice note saying she just thought I should have a copy. I was so touched by that. It’s just a nice validation after a lot of years of hard work.
Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, is a freelance reporter living in Franklin, Tenn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.