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Why Mike McRoberts backed out of this 50th birthday dare

After taking stock of what’s gone before and what’s next, the TV news anchor is feeling better than ever - except for one thing.

It’s almost impossible to believe Mike McRoberts turned 50 in March.

The Newshub presenter’s skin is smooth and unlined, and his spare frame isn’t showing so much as a hint of middle-aged spread. If anything he looks better now than he did a few years back. Mike laughs when asked what his secret of youth is.

“Probably good genes. My mum has always looked pretty young for her age. And I think that working in an environment where you’re constantly looking at new developments, you can’t help but keep young. Still, my 16-year-old son has just started having driving lessons and that’s probably aged me considerably in the last few months!”

Off screen, Mike is a calm presence. He is softly spoken but laughs a lot, and his humour is self-deprecating.

“I was a bit worried about the grey hair but it seems to have gone down okay,” he tells the Weekly. “There were a few interesting comments on social media such as ‘Has McRoberts started dyeing his hair to get more credibility?’ and someone rang up TV3’s reception and asked if I’d bleached my hair!”

His landmark birthday wasn’t something Mike had been dreading.

“I didn’t have any trepidation about turning 50. I’d kind of resigned myself to the fact of being old and thought of it as a neat chance to catch up with everyone.”

Since the big day happened to coincide with Derby Day at Ellerslie, he decided to celebrate there with loved ones.

“We had a little marquee and my family came up from Christchurch and my sister from Brisbane.

It was fantastic! From there we went home and had a bit more of a celebration.”

There had been talk of his brothers buying Mike a tattoo for his birthday, a ta moko they both have themselves.

“I chickened out of that one,” he admits. “For a long time – probably still – I was the only one in my family who hadn’t had his ear pierced or anything like that. I felt if I got a tattoo I wouldn’t be doing it for me, I’d be doing it for my brothers; and as much as I love them I didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

So his brothers came up with another plan.

“What they did was go to the same tattooist and he made a print of what he would have done for me. So I’ve got that hanging up; minus the pain of having it done. I’ve also got a beautiful greenstone taonga the family gave me so I feel good about that.”

The Newshub presenter also marked turning 50 by competing in a daredevil marathon, which included a jetboat ride, a bungee jump and a tandem skydive.

“So I can say that I’ve ticked those boxes and I’ll never tick them again,” says Mike, who isn’t the greatest fan of heights.

“The skydive wasn’t so bad – it lasts for five or six minutes, you have a chance to adapt and get your mind around it. Whereas the bungee jump was 20 seconds of sheer terror, and that scream as I went over the bridge wasn’t one of delight. I hated it! Still at the end of the day I was thrilled to have done it all.”

Marathon running has become a lasting passion. Mike is a member of trainer Gaz Brown’s Get Running group (along with Weekly columnist Kerre McIvor).

“They’re a fantastic bunch of people and very supportive,” he says. “But I also like training alone and the headspace you get into. When you’ve got a busy life, it’s quite therapeutic forcing yourself to do nothing but put one foot in front of the other for a couple of hours.”

Mike pushed his body to the limit for his landmark birthday with a tandem skydive.

The Christchurch marathon in June was Mike’s fourth and it was an amazing experience to run through his hometown.

“At age 50 I still got a kick out of the fact that my mother was waiting for me at the finish line, ready to give me a big hug,” he says.The route took the runners through the CBD so they got to see the rebuild, and they also went through the red zone.

“That is eerie,” says Mike. “It seems just like a park with a road through the middle of it, but if you look to the side of the road you can see where the driveways to the houses used to be.”

While he’s encouraged by progress in Christchurch and thinks it is shaping up to be a really cool city, Mike can’t see himself moving back there any time soon.

“I love Auckland and the opportunities that are up here. And I think I’d have a hard time convincing the kids!” he says.

The Newshub presenter has taken to marathon running.

Perhaps one of the reasons the milestone of 50 hasn’t sparked a crisis for Mike is that he is in such a good place in his life right now.

“I feel better than I did in my mid-forties,” he says. “I’m a lot more physically fit and mentally content. I don’t feel that I have to try to prove myself any more. That’s not to say I’m blasé or over-confident about what I do, I just feel that I can do it.”

Fifty has come at a time when Mike has taken on more responsibility in the newsroom.

“I’m mentoring, working with young journalists and that has been really interesting,” he says. “You don’t realise how much you’ve learned over the years until you sit down with someone younger and start going through it with them.”

Fellow journalist Paula supported her husband through the transition to Newshub.

He has also been heavily involved in organising TV3’s coverage of the Olympics and is excited about heading over to Rio to lead the reporting team alongside long-time colleagues Michelle Pickles and Melissa Davies. Mike is a particular fan of the track and field events.

“My passion comes from being an eight year old at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch and seeing Dick Tayler win gold and John Walker get silver,” he recalls.

“In my neighbourhood we were obsessed after that. We made medals out of those old milk bottle tops you used to get – the gold, silver and blue ones – set up a podium and had our own Olympics. “And the McRoberts family fared pretty well – we cleaned up the gold don’t you worry!”

The run up to this year’s Olympics has been turbulent, with controversy about athletes doping and the risk of the Zika virus.

“I guess it’s made for a messy build up,” says Mike, “but I’ve no doubt that once the starter’s gun is fired we’ll forget about all that. We’ve got a fantastic New Zealand team and we’re hopefully looking at our best Olympics ever.”

There has been a fair amount of turbulence for Mike back home too, this year, with the resignation of his much-loved co-presenter Hilary Barry after 11 years of reading the news together.

“I was a little down in the dumps for a bit,” admits Mike. “Even my wife Paula [Penfold] joked to friends at the time, ‘Oh, it’s very weird. I’m having to support my husband through a difficult break-up’.

He was disappointed to lose co-presenter Hilary after years together at the helm.

“I miss Hilary. We still keep in contact, and while it was disappointing because we’d been together so long, I could understand why she felt like she wanted to take a break and get her life back. The way I got through it was thinking I was really lucky to have been part of such an incredible partnership in the first place.”

He admires the way her replacement Newshub presenter, Samantha Hayes, has coped with stepping into such big shoes.

“Sam’s great. She’s taken to it really well. It’s a pretty unenviable position to be taking over from Hilary Barry. We talked about that beforehand and I said, I think the only thing you can do is not be Hilary but be Samantha Hayes.”

Mike has no plans to move on himself. He still has the same love for journalism – for travelling the world reporting back from crises and conflicts, and telling people’s stories – saying even if he won Lotto tomorrow, he’d still want to be working.

Mike says Sam Hayes is great.

But turning 50 is a point in life where you tend to assess what you’ve done and where you’re going. And there is a small clue to what older Mike might be like in the gifts he suggested he and wife Paula should give each other last Christmas.

“We bought old-fashioned bikes – ones with big handlebars and a basket. We cycle around the neighbourhood, out to brunch or to visit friends. We love it,” he says. “Hopefully older Mike will have a bit more time to enjoy things like that with the people he loves.”

WATCH: Mike McRoberts says goodbye to Hilary Barry

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