Kathryn Tappen's meteoric rise in sports broadcasting is akin to a Zdeno Chara slap shot: swift and striking. Since joining the top-rated New England Sports Network in 2006, Tappen has moved from reporter to lead Boston Bruins studio host and has thrived in the ever-boiling Boston sports cauldron.
"It's been a great run," said the 30-year-old Tappen, a former Academic All-American track standout at Rutgers University. "I've seen people come into this market unprepared and get burned or even humiliated by a coach. Even people who come from cities like New York or Philadelphia don't know what it's like to work in Boston. The fans are so passionate. If you say something that is incorrect, they will definitely call you on it. When you cover people's favorite teams, it's like you're a part of their families."
Tappen's athletic pedigree has served her well in a business in which the will to win is vital. "I'm a perfectionist," she said. "Every night on the broadcasts, I bring the same preparation and enthusiasm as I did when I was competing as an athlete."
In her formative years in Morristown, N.J., Tappen played youth basketball and baseball on boys' teams. She attended Rutgers on academic and athletic scholarships, and was a member of the cross country and track teams, setting a school record in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase. Now, although free time is at a premium, athletics remain a priority for Tappen.
"I usually run anywhere from 4 to 6 miles before I start my day," she said. "I've picked up spinning in the last two years and try to do that a few times a week to give my body a rest from the impact of running. I'll jump in an occasional road race from time to time.
"I also play tennis with my husband [New Jersey Devils defenseman Jay Leach] in my free time, and I am going to try stand-up paddleboarding with him this summer. Twice a week, I train with a personal trainer to build up my strength and core."
Tappen's athletic past -- and present -- have enhanced her cred with Boston fans and athletes.
"When athletes learn that I was a former Division I athlete, I think it helps bring a respect and a common denominator," she said. "I can remember being paired up in a charity golf foursome with [Bruins legend] Ray Bourque at one of his charity tournaments. They had a long-drive competition. It seemed like every great Bruins player was there. I was nervous and gripped the club so hard not wanting to look bad in front of all those guys. I drove it straight down the middle over 200 yards. That was unbelievable. It was great to have that kind of rapport with the guys, especially being a woman."
The former CSTV and NBC Universal reporter does not shy away from the gender factor inherent in her field. "I believe that we all have to prove ourselves in this business," said Tappen, who has won an Associated Press award and been nominated for two Emmy Awards.
"Thanks to people like [ESPN columnist] Jackie MacMullan and [sports broadcaster] Lesley Visser, we don't have the challenges that female reporters had in the past," Tappen said. "But we still have to earn our credibility and watch how we conduct ourselves. That's just the way it is."