Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the top sportscasters in the country. Kate Beirness is one of the most inspiring women in the sports industry. For the first interview in my series of females in sports, Kate talks about how she got to where is she today and what she looks forward to in her future.
Mikayla Guarasci: How did you become involved in sports as a kid? Were you always a huge sports fan or involved in athletics?
Kate Beirness: As far back as I can remember, I was always on some type of team.. The first time I was ever on a team was actually soccer and I would have been about four. I remember being in kindergarten, grade one, around there and there was something about being on a team and being competitive that I just loved. All I ever wanted to do was compete, and I just thought sports were the coolest thing ever because I loved the feeling of winning but even as a young kid, I didn’t mind learning. When I lost, I was a good loser, I kind of always got something out of it. As far back as I can remember, sports have been my entire life.
MG: I know that you played basketball in high school, was your plan to pursue the sport or did you have other ideas?
KB: My plan is still to pursue sports, I say that to people all the time. The dream of the WNBA has never died. I think as a Canadian, and even growing up in a small town, assumptions would be hockey. I was a good skater but I think my parents saw a bit of an aggression in me. Not in life, but more when I was playing sports. I think they tried to direct me away from hockey and ringette at the time. The first time I ever made was basketball when I was in grade 4. I just had this love for basketball. I found it cool, I loved dribbling, I loved being outside. All my skill sets kind of worked with this sport. From grade 4 on I played as much as I could, I tried to play every day. Definitely, when I got into high school, the dream was just to play as long as I possibly could which at the time, I was obviously hoping University but I blew out my right knee when I was 17 years old so that dream quickly died. I think ultimately too, I just wasn’t good enough. I still love it to this day as much as I did as a kid.
MG: When you realized you wouldn’t be able to pursue basketball at a higher level, was broadcasting a future that immediately drew you in or did you have other ideas in mind?
KB: I was actually at a loss. I got cut from a University basketball team, Western [University of Western Ontario]. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was in kinesiology at the time so I was thinking maybe I’ll be a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. My parents were both teachers so a gym teacher was always in the back of my mind. Then I came to this realization that I as much as I loved playing sports, I was also a diehard sports fan. You look back on my grade 6 school photo and I’m wearing my Kobe Bryant jersey. I do remember when I was in my late teens, early twenties, watching SportsCenter thinking, hey, reading a highlight pack would be cool. I just ran with the dream. How can I make this happen? I think being cut actually helped me figure out, wow, I could actually give sportscasting a try.
MG: When you decided that was something you wanted to try, did you face criticism from people close to you or was everyone supportive of it?
KB: I have the most supportive family in the world. My family has instilled me with this confidence and drive. They knew from a young age, they could tell me no all they wanted, I was still going to go and try it. Their big thing was, always have a backup plan. Even when I told them whenever the WNBA came to, I’m going there. They said, “that’s great, just have a backup plan”. They did the same thing with sportscasting. They said, “that’s awesome, but just have a backup plan”. I remember when I actually made it on TSN, I said: “I don’t need a backup plan!”. They were incredibly supportive the entire way, especially during those years when I wasn’t getting paid for what I was doing. They’ve always been behind me.
MG: When you started out in the business, who did you look up to? Especially females.
KB: I watched a ton of NFL and NBA as a kid so I would say it was actually more of the American sideline reporters that I loved watching. Michele Tafoya, Suzy Kolber, Lesley Visser, Pam Oliver, it was all those females. When I got in, at TSN, there were only two. It was Jennifer Hedger and Holly Horton. I thought they were and still are fantastic sportscasters. Over at Sportsnet, it was Martine Gaillard and Evanka Osmak so there weren’t many of us nearly a decade ago. I love the fact that I think we have more female anchors now on TSN than male anchors and how far it’s come. Those women in the early days, when women weren’t allowed in locker rooms or when we’d never see two female anchors together. Those are the women who really broke down the barriers for us.
MG: Do you deal with online criticism? How do you deal with it? Is it driven by you being a female?
KB: I’ve been getting online criticism since the day I started. If you’re not getting criticized, I think you’re doing something wrong. The thing you learn really quickly is you have to take it. Again this reverts back to sports, from a young age I was constructively criticized. That was a little bit different because normally it was good constructive criticism. I’ve never met one person in my entire like, that every single person likes them. You could be the nicest person in the world who’s never hurt a fly but there will be someone out there who finds something wrong with you. It used to be a lot harder when I first started. My family would react poorly to it saying “oh, this person said this about you”. Now it’s almost unfortunate because any negative comments, I just let them roll off my back but any positive comments I say, “oh thank you” but I almost react the same way. I’m almost immune to everything that comes my way.
MG: What inspired you to start HerMark?
KB: I really wanted to do something because I feel like I’ve been given a lot in this industry. I have this wonderful career, I have great coworkers, amazing friends, I have a pretty amazing life. I feel when you get to a point, you realize, I’ve been given all these awesome things. I started to have young females reach out to me and say “hey, I’m trying to get into the sports or broadcasting”. It was fine if I helped them out, jumped on a phone call once in a while. I felt like I could reach so many more people. One of the things that have always bothered me is I don’t feel like females support one another enough. This was my experience growing up as well. I think they can cut each other down more than guys. Guys fight it out where females will talk. I really despise that. It doesn’t progress females, I think it’s hindering our success. What I wanted to do was hit females at an age where I knew it was tough and show them that we have these amazing females role models in this country. They all got to where they are by working together and pumping each other up rather than cutting them down. So this is where I came up with the idea of HerMark. We have some of the greatest Olympians in the country and some of the greatest female athletes and we don’t showcase them enough. We get to select a couple hundred girls to come to this conference and meet some of their role models. We’ve gone through nearly 500 girls in the first two years. If we changed the lives of one or two, that’s really all that matters to me. It was really an important endeavor for me because I knew I had the capability of doing because of what’ve been given in this industry.
MG: Looking forward to the rest of your career, what is one or two things that you are really looking to accomplish?
KB: That’s tough. I would say in all honesty, from a broadcasting standpoint, if it stops tomorrow, I’d be ok with it. I’ve done so many amazing things. I’ve done the Olympics. I would have said to you last year, the Olympics, but I’ve done them. Ultimately, I’d love to stay in the industry as long as I possibly can, continue broadcasting in this country and make HerMark as big as possible. Travel it around this country, not just keep it in Toronto. I’d like it to take it to the west, the north and the east.
MG: Would you say that the lessons you learned in sports carried over into real life and helped you to move forward in life?
KB: Sports gave me everything. This is what I stress, especially at HerMark, if there are girls that are there that are in sports, I’ve got to hammer home as hard as I can to stay in sports as long as you can. I’m starting up a new podcast and we were talking to Catriona Le May Doan yesterday and we asked her “are you a fan of participation ribbons and not first, second and third” she said “absolutely not” and I couldn’t agree more with her. It’s because that’s not how life works. You are not given a participation ribbon in life. You are going to succeed in somethings and you are going to fail at somethings. It’s the way it goes. It’s how you deal with success and how you deal with failure. Sports gave me that, especially the failure part of it. I think the other big thing is being part of a team. If I knew what I know now, back when I was seventeen, my teams would have been a lot better and I would have been a lot more selfless. I think sports are incredibly critical because there are so many parallels to life.
MG: You said you were starting up a new podcast. What was the name of that and where can people find it?
KB: Take a guess. It’s the HerMark Podcast. It is launching on November 1st with myself and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Cheryl Pounder, who was also my co-host at the Pyeong-Chang Olympics. We wanted to continue the HerMark theme and share the stories of these amazing Canadian athletes and women. On our first episode, we had Natalie Spooner. We had Tessa Virtue, Rosie MacLennan. The women in this country just blow me away and I want to share their stories with everyone.
MG: Lastly, as our readers are mostly teens, if you could give your teenage self any advice, what would it be?
KB: My biggest piece of advice would be a few things. Work hard because everyone’s working hard around you as well and never lose that motivation. Stay positive, life’s too short not to be. The biggest thing would be, bring out the best, not only in yourself but in others around you. I find when you find qualities in other people that are exceptional and maybe qualities that you don’t have. I have a couple of best friends in my life and they have aspects that I truly love and I’ll never be as good as them in some aspects. By making sure that they know that, it makes our relationship better, it makes them better as a human. Really those three things.
Feature Image: Instagram @Katebeirness
*Note: Interview has been condensed for clarity and length.