What’s Her Secret: Toronto Raptors Host Kat Stefankiewicz

You wouldn’t expect the ever-peppy Toronto Raptors in-game host be shy at heart, but she is. Kat Stefankiewicz grew up as an introvert, quietly surrounding herself with music, singing, dancing, photography, and creative writing. She thrived in the arts and through these pursuits, she gradually came out of her shell. Now, the performer, dancer, and TV personality is the face of the Toronto Raptors and can be found hyping up the fans during the playoffs at Jurassic Park and is a recognized personality on NBA TV Canada.

After a crazy summer for the Raptors, I caught up with Kat and we discussed her career path, what #WETHENORTH means to her, her personal style, and what it’s like to be a woman in the sports world.

To start, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your background? 
I’m a creative nerd at heart, a performer by trade and a storyteller by what the world has called me to do. I’m a host and personality in television and live events including my ties to the Toronto Raptors as their in-game host and a personality for NBA TV Canada. I’m also a spin instructor at Spokehaus, an adidas ambassador, and I dabble daily in the digital media field as a content creator and lifestyle influencer.

I was born in Mississauga, ON, and called Burlington, ON, home for most of my formative years. I am the oldest of three kids. I was a shy child with Polish as my first language and performing was always that space that brought me out of my shell. I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t surrounded by music, singing, dancing or some form of creative expression. Sports were also a big part of my childhood and I bounced back and forth between the dance studio and the baseball diamond, sometimes on the same day! Art, photography and creative writing were my favourite subjects in school. And then it came to a point where I would practice these crafts without a due date. I was an introverted kid and I’m grateful that my parents always pushed me to get involved with team activities. Family is still the most important thing in my life. I am a graduate of the Music Theatre Performance program at Sheridan College and shortly after receiving my diploma, I moved to the big city and have lived in Toronto ever since I landed my first professional performing job. 

Walk us through your career path. How did you get where you are today?
A short time after graduating from theatre school it was time to start auditioning in hopes of starting my journey in the world of entertainment. I had received notice that the Toronto Raptors Dance Pak was holding auditions for their team. So I packed up my dance shoes and headed to the big city with a heart full of hope and a stomach full of nerves. I was familiar with the audition circuit but this was a whole new ballgame because the reality was that it was time to make these dreams come true. After a two-day audition process, I secured a spot on the team for the new season.

My vision coming out of theatre school was to use all of my skills to break into the industry and be open to opportunities just outside of my ideal. It was dance that allowed me to walk through the doors. For a few years I danced on the Pak and continued auditioning, landing roles in commercials, television and feature films. Transitioning into television was something that I had envisioned and one day I had the opportunity to be a part of a feature for Raptors TV as they followed alongside me for a day in the life of the Raptors Dance Pak. This led to a host position for a new show on the network the following season. From there the opportunities grew with the network as it changed to NBA TV Canada and I was offered the in-arena host position with the Raptors too. I am thrilled to still be a part of the Raptors organization while working as a host, actor and content creator on other projects in the city.

As a self employed artist, every day is a different beast and I truly enjoy the spontaneity and variety in my days. I recognized that I thrived in this type of lifestyle early on but I did have to learn how to embrace the waves of work. Some weeks you’re working 24/7 with offers and other weeks you’re waiting for the next gig. I’ve learned to trust that work is always coming and to use the quiet times as a sign to take a breath and a break and revisit why I do this in the first place. Finding a healthy balance between the hustle and humble beginnings puts me in the right place to succeed. 

What’s a day in the life for you? What’s it really like to be a Toronto Raptors in-game host?
As I mentioned above, everyday is a different beast and I wouldn’t want it any other way. When you’re the so-called ‘boss’ of your days, you have to have a certain ‘crack the whip’ type of personality to keep you motivated to move forward. A solid and honest support system is crucial too when you need someone to remind you that you’ve got this! Aside from my work with the Raptors, my days are filled with hosting other events/shows in the city, moderating panels, teaching spin at Spokehaus, creating content for brands and my personal brand, and navigating the social media scene. And hosting Raptors games are one of my favourite things about my days! It’s an incredible high to be surrounded by an arena of 20,000 strong, all supporting the team with an electric energy and positive pulse.

Is it easy for you to keep up the hype and energy? Does this come naturally to you?
Something that I am grateful for in my role as the in-arena host is that I can just be me. I have been told that I have a very positive spirit, and this is something that I absolutely bring to the games. What you see from me during games is always authentic and genuine energy. I get just as excited as the fans for a big basket or a nail biting comeback win. The energy from the fans is contagious so it is a combination of the two that I present to the crowd. 

Has the meaning of #WETHENORTH changed for you since you’ve been working in this role?
The meaning of We The North has not changed for me, it has just exploded to a new level. My mind is still blown at the power and passion that our city showcased during the entire playoffs run this season. Everyday there were more and more people standing with pride for not only the team but our country. The power of sport is wild. And it was more than incredible to see a community rally together with nothing but positivity, hope and joy. Everyone was included, and isn’t that something we should strive to do more of in life?

What do you love about basketball culture?
I love the feeling of community. I love the diversity of cultures and colours, the sound of different languages and the fact that the hard parts of life stop the minute the ball drops. I love that people of all experiences are united for a moment. I love the infusion of pop culture and art and that the game is art itself—the swish of a basket or the execution of a three pass play. I love that as a spectator, you’re steps away from the action. You can feel and hear the heat. I love that personal expression is accepted and not just seen in the hard work and teamwork, but in the gear that gets you to and from the court. I love that all you need is a basketball, a hoop, and a dream.

What is your favourite part of your job? What motivates you?
Bringing a little light to the lives of others. I love the high of performing and of bringing people closer to their NBA idols, but it’s the satisfied smiles or people expressing gratitude for an experience they’ll never forget that fulfills me. Or receiving a note that something I shared through my writing affected them in a positive way. That is why I do what I do. Success to me is being respected for what you bring to the world while making a positive impact on the lives of others. I think about that as I go through my days and to bring me back to purpose and ground zero when life gets wild.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
The live aspect of the gig can be intimidating because you have to be prepared for anything and everything to happen. You’re also sharing a little bit of yourself every time you host or perform and you can’t hide behind a desk on a bad day. Learning to use those bad day feelings as fuel or clear my head until I can revisit any challenges is important. Luckily, performing makes me extremely happy, so in the end it’s almost very therapeutic.

Have you always been really into sports?
Yes. Sports were a huge part of my childhood. I played competitive baseball, my brother played competitive hockey, my Dad was a hockey referee and coached us both, and the game was always on TV. My sister and I also grew up dancing competitively. I’ve loved the world of sports since I can remember, have tried my hand at most of them at least once and still play softball in the summer. So the fact that I landed in the world of sports as a performer still blows my mind but now it makes sense. It’s exactly where I am supposed to be because I do believe everyone can make their passion their living.

As a woman working in the traditionally male-dominated sports world, have you met any challenges? 
Being respected for my craft is definitely something that I dealt with. I was very lucky to have male colleagues that supported my journey and growth from day one but like anything, you have to prove yourself with diligent practice and research. I was sitting down with athletes and other notable people that had probably done hundreds of interviews. That can scare you or you can choose to be driven by it. And not only was I a female in a male-dominated industry when I started in media, I did not have any schooling to back me up and I was also an NBA dancer at the time of transition. That unfortunately held stereotypes of its own, but I have always loved a good challenge, and that’s exactly what this was. It was the challenge of gaining respect for what I brought to the table despite my past or presence. It was the challenge of having a bad performance and getting back up to try again. And building from there, a challenge we all face no matter what our background is, trusting that what we bring to the table is powerful and enough. Get knocked down seven times, get back up eight. I grew up surrounded by the world of sports and played many myself, but basketball wasn’t one I knew like the back of my hand, so I definitely had the challenge of not only learning the ‘this and that’ of hosting and reporting, but I had to learn the game too. 

Do you have any advice to other women who want to pursue a sports-related career?
The statistics may say otherwise, but I do believe that the growth of women in sports media and journalism is truly noticeable. Turn on any sports network and you will see a powerful female either on the desk or on the sidelines at a sporting event. I had a moment at the NBA finals this season standing courtside to do a hit and looked down the line and there were four other women with different networks standing right beside me. I don’t feel like an outsider anymore. That means we are doing something right. In the end, I want to believe that the best person for the job will get it but I do believe that we as women have what it takes. It’s not just about having more women in sports, but it’s about us really owning our skills, standing with confidence, preparing past perfection and collaborating with other women to make our voices heard. I think the important part is to always loop back to support. It’s not a competition with other women, it’s a collaboration. Let’s fuel that fight together, engage, share the highs and lows, and give each other opportunities to succeed.

Fashion is a big part of the basketball scene. How would you describe your personal style?
Tomboy chic. I have fun mixing things that don’t necessarily go together and making it work. Like trackpants and heels! I don’t believe in rules when it comes to style; I believe anything goes because it’s your confidence that carries the outfit. Honestly, I like breaking the rules. I don’t feel comfortable always following trends. I don’t feel comfortable when I’m wearing the same outfit as others in the room. As an artist, it’s also another platform for expression so I truly enjoy this part of the game.

How did your role as an adidas ambassador come about? What do you love about the brand?
I was approached by adidas to join the team and it has been an incredible family to be a part of. They honour authenticity and give me another platform to bring to the world what I strive for and believe in. Their brand encourages people to live their truth and showcases and supports not just athletes but creators of all types.

You’re a huge advocate for an active and healthy lifestyle. What are your tips for people who want to hit refresh on their health/fitness goals?
I believe in the power of self-love. I believe that when you’re constantly putting energy into being the best version of yourself, the world around you lights up. It’s about listening to your needs and feelings. It’s about being honest and finding the reason behind your health goals. Find a buddy to meet goals with, sign up for a race to find purpose and constantly go back to that reason you’re doing it in the first place when the days get tough. A healthy lifestyle to me includes not just physical wellbeing but catering to mental health too. I enjoy physical activity because it’s an outlet to clear my mind, sweat out insecurities and anything weighing me down, and practice focus and determination. Yoga, meditation and journaling are a part of my routine too. Plus, I plan on running around with my grandchildren when I’m 100, so I’m already training for that marathon now.

Photos courtesy of: Clayton Hansler.

Tags: interview, top story, topstory, what's her secret?

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