From professional figure skater to court reporting student
By Alisha Conley
My journey leading up to court reporting was less traditional than most. My name is Alisha Conley and I’m currently a student online at Hardeman School of Court Reporting and Captioning and living in Claymont, Delaware. I started in October of 2019, and I’m currently working on finishing my last three tests at 225 wpm before graduation. It seems surreal after the roller coaster that is court reporting school, and I will be forever grateful that I found this career.
First, let me start by telling you a little bit about myself: I was born in England in July of 1992. I weighed around two pounds, had lungs that deflated, died a couple of times, and lived in an incubator for a good portion of those early years. My parents were told I would probably not make it and if I did, I’d never be fully functioning and would need care my whole life. Fast forward to three years old and my first time stepping onto the ice – I not only was a very healthy, hyperactive child, but I excelled in my figure skating career. During my early teens, I competed in British figure skating championships and internationally representing Great Britain, I went to some of the highest training camps all through Europe and the United States. I was homeschooled all over the world and now put that down to being one of the reasons I have been able to attend court reporting school remotely with dedication and commitment – it’s all I know.
While competitive figure skating was in my blood with my brothers playing hockey and my sister on the Great Britain Olympic Team, I never had the same passion and heart that they had for the competitive side. I dreamed of working in shows and performing for audiences all over the world instead. At 18 years old I auditioned for Disney on Ice in Nottingham, UK, and was shipped off almost immediately to Paris, France, to start a 10-month European contract with the company. I stayed with Disney on Ice for almost a decade, traveling to Europe, America, Canada, Asia, South Africa, and too many places to count. We would change cities and countries almost every week during those contracts and live in hotels out of two 50-pound suitcases. My favorite role to portray on the show was Tinkerbell, and I loved every second of seeing the world and figure skating for thousands of people almost daily. I also met my husband, Brandon, with Disney on Ice, as he was the head audio engineer for the show. We traveled together for many years around the world until we decided in May of 2019 that we wanted to settle down, get a dog as we had always dreamed, and start our next chapter.
I’ll admit that I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left figure skating. I had worn ice skates since I was three years old and had never spent any large length of time off of the ice. One thing that appealed to me, in the beginning, was law enforcement transcription, but while searching and looking at those jobs, I saw a job posting that said “Transcription/Court Reporting.”
What was court reporting? I had no idea! I Googled it that day and spent hours and hours reading about it and learning everything I could. I couldn’t stop! It was love at first sight. From that moment on, I knew that my heart would never be happy without pursuing this dream. The next week I signed up for an introductory stenography program and continued to fall more in love. I hit the ground running, practicing for 20-plus hours a week, in the hopes of making the two-year program a success. To this day I still love it more than anything and wake up every single day excited to practice and progress. I started school during the fall of 2019 and have managed to make it to 225 wpm with blood, sweat, and the occasional tears.
Although my schooling is all online, I do have live classes every single week and never have any classes that are recorded. I am the only student in my 225 class right now with my amazing teacher, Bonni Shuttleworth, CRI, CPE, and I can’t say how grateful I am that she has pushed me and helped me get this far. I am excited every single week for class and can’t wait to tell Bonni all about my progress and the new things I’ve learned throughout the week.
This year I was also lucky enough to attend my first-ever NCRA Conference in Las Vegas. I had no idea what to expect, but it was the most inspiring, motivating, and wonderful thing I’ve ever done. The court reporting community is like no other. In fact, without the generosity of court reporters, I would have never made it to the Conference in the first place. Every single day spent there lit a fire within me that somehow blazed brighter than the previous day. My two favorite sessions of the whole Conference were “Why, When, and How We Practice” and “What If I Do Not Become a Court Reporter Right Away?”
First of all, “Why, When, and How We Practice”: this session had so many of my role models and idols presenting that I was desperate to get a front-row seat and bring my brand-new notepad to soak up as much information as I could. It did not disappoint! Allie Hall, RDR, CRR; Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR; Jennifer Billstein-Miller; RMR, CRR; Douglas J. Zweizig; RDR, CRR; Karen Tyler, RDR, CRR, CRC; and Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, all presented small, individual presentations on why, when, and how they practice. I had over 10 pages of notes by the end of the session, and I went immediately back to my hotel room to practice as soon as the session was over. Hearing them burst with pride, talking about how they practiced for each of their certifications, how much certifications matter, and their love for the industry brought happy tears to my eyes. All I could think at the time was how I couldn’t wait to be in their shoes one day. I also realized that there are many ways to practice and so many different techniques that it is hard to really pinpoint what can work for each person. It’s a very personal journey and the main thing is that you do not stop practicing. Personally, my favorite takeaway was to start high and work your way to goal speed. I had previously been starting low, going to goal, and then high and back to goal; but I have seen great progress since I got home with the high-to-low method.
“What If I Do Not Become a Court Reporter Right Away?” was a favorite because it opened my eyes to just what is possible with this career and all of the ways you can take this amazing skill and use it for so many things. Who wouldn’t love to caption the Oscars? Hearing Tera Walker’s story was absolutely amazing. Her company, Steno Scripts, captions the Oscars every single year flawlessly and she even takes students from California to help and show them what it’s like. Hearing her passion for what she does and how she has created her company from scratch was so inspiring.
In fact, my favorite observation of the whole Conference was just how much passion, love, and dedication there is to this profession. I have never seen so many people love a job so much or seen faces light up the way court reporters’ faces do when they talk about their lives in the industry. To say I got too emotional at the Conference watching the sessions would be an understatement because it made me realize that I am not alone in how much I love what I do. My struggle in school is not mine alone; every single one of my idols and working reporters have been through it and made it, and I have never felt more at home than in this community. We really are one big family.
Another Conference highlight was being able to watch the Speed Contests and the Guinness Record Challenge! Wow! I always said I’d never want to do those competitions because the speeds are so fast it feels intimidating, but after being there and seeing it in person, I now have so many hopes and dreams to be up there on the stage myself one day taking part. It was truly phenomenal to watch and, yes, I cried while watching.
As for me right now, it feels a little sad that the excitement of the Conference had to end, as I sit in my office writing this in little ol’ Claymont, Del. But with only three 225 wpm tests to go until graduation, I am looking forward to hopefully working in the very near future either as a freelance reporter or an official. I am already counting down the days until Orlando and hope to arrive with my RPR and be able to help more students enter this wonderful field the same way I was helped by so many.
Alisha Conley with her husband and German Shepherd, Timber
Until then, I will continue to practice every single day relentlessly and enjoy my time with my wonderful husband who works so hard to let me dedicate myself to my studies full time and my classmate, my four-legged best friend, cuddle buddy, and testing sidekick, my German Shepherd Timber.
Alisha Conley is a student at the Hardeman School of Court Reporting and Captioning