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Wendy Petrie and daughter Addie’s COVID nightmare

The TV star and her talented teen reveal their COVID journey

It’s a big deal for any parent when a child leaves home for the first time, but for Wendy Petrie, farewelling her eldest daughter Addie on a rowing scholarship to the States has been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster.

Not only did her newly turned 18-year-old travel halfway across the world on her own in the midst of a global pandemic, but she also caught the dreaded virus only days after arriving at the University of San Diego.

“I knew COVID was a risk, but never in a million years did I expect her to get it so soon,” says Wendy, 50, who is also mum to Liv, 16, and Zach, 12. “My heart sank when I got the text saying, ‘I’ve tested positive,’ but I had to be rational about it.

“She’s young, healthy and triple vaccinated, so I was pretty confident she would be OK – and she was. As a mum, you have to steel yourself for this stuff. It’s hard letting go, but it’s also incredible seeing your child living their dream.”

While the tight-knit pair managed to fit in a photo shoot with Woman’s Day just before Addie left Aotearoa at the end of January, they’re talking to us today over video call, with Wendy at home in Auckland and Addie from the dorm room she shares with another student on campus.

The talented rower has been away for three months now – the longest period she’s ever spent apart from her family – and while it’s been a big adjustment for Wendy and her husband Ross Peebles, Addie is taking her new life in her stride.

No signs of homesickness or tearful calls to Mum and Dad – just huge excitement about her big adventure.

“I do miss home, especially family dinners around the table together, but I’m actually loving being over here and having such a cool new experience,” she smiles. “I’m in an awesome rowing team, San Diego is a really cool, beachy town, and everyone has been super-lovely and friendly, so it’s been an easy transition.”

Wendy is clearly incredibly proud of her firstborn, who she describes as a quiet achiever – hardworking, disciplined and great fun to be around. “I’d say she’s your typical oldest child,” tells the news presenter. “Quietly confident, very responsible… Her siblings might say she’s a wee bit bossy!”

It was during lockdown last year when Addie, then in her final year at Saint Kentigern College, decided she wanted to head to a university in the US. Undaunted by the idea of travelling during the pandemic, Addie set about researching options and putting together applications for the highly contested scholarships. While many people enlist agencies to help, Addie did it all herself.

“This whole American university dream was completely driven by Addie,” says Wendy proudly. “It’s very cool as a parent to watch your child chase their dreams like this and do it so independently.”

But getting to grips with the fact her child has flown the nest has been a work in progress for the devoted mother, who tells us she still can’t believe her little girl has actually left home.

“It’s quite unsettling to look at her empty bedroom and realise the child I nurtured her whole life isn’t there any more. A lot of my self-worth is around my job as a mother and when they don’t need me, it’s a definite change. I can’t even imagine what it will be like when the other two leave – that will be really strange. I’ll have to find myself a hobby!”

While the broadcasting star was understandably nervous about her daughter leaving the country at such an uncertain time, she had to park those fears for Addie’s sake.

“In the back of my mind, I worried we were making a big mistake sending her away in the middle of a pandemic and sometimes I’d wake up terrified, thinking, ‘What am I doing?!’ I knew I wouldn’t have been able to get her home or get to her if she needed me, but I also knew how important it is for young people to live their lives.

“The past few years have been really tough on our teenagers. They’ve missed school, balls, socialising with their friends, going away… As much as they love their families, they need time with their friends. So we really miss her, but watching her adventure brings us so much happiness.”

While Wendy knew there was a chance Addie might come into contact with COVID when she left the relative safety of Godzone, she certainly didn’t expect it would happen so soon. But just 10 days

after arriving, she caught the virus off her roommate and was sent to a purpose-built isolation facility on campus to quarantine.

Addie tells, “I was a wee bit scared when the results were positive, but I guess that’s because I’d come from New Zealand, where I didn’t know anyone who’d had COVID.

But here, pretty much all my friends have had it, so that made it less frightening. Amazingly, I had no symptoms at all. I felt completely well the whole time.”

Wendy, however, admits it was tough knowing her daughter was on her own so far away. “I was worried about her being in isolation and not being able to see anyone for five days. I thought there’d be people checking on her, but nope – she was given a health phone number, someone dropped food outside her door and that was about it.”

The past few years have been a period of huge change for Wendy, who lost her longtime presenting role on 1 News when the pandemic hit in 2020. But almost two years on, she’s found herself exactly where she wants to be.

She’s still a regular face at TVNZ, but being free from the full-time grind has meant she’s been able to say yes to exciting new projects. Recently, she’s sunk her teeth into MC work and speaking engagements, and she’s got a podcast called The Word With Wendy Petrie, where athletes discuss their passion for their chosen sport.

She’s also teamed up with Sport NZ for the It’s My Move campaign, designed to encourage girls to stick with sport beyond their childhood years. It’s a cause close to her heart, with Wendy seeing first-hand the benefits Addie and younger daughter Liv, a talented swimmer, have reaped from their participation.

“I’m really passionate about keeping our girls in sports,” she enthuses. “The research that they drop out of sport due to body-image issues and fear of the pressure of competition is quite strong.

Sometimes it’s the uniform that makes a girl feel uncomfortable – or the fear they’re not good enough. It needs to change because doing sport socially is so good for teenagers and their brains.”

Yes, having sporty kids has meant many hours in the car, driving them to training and cold mornings standing on the sidelines, but for Wendy, it’s all been worth it.

“I’d do anything for my kids, and if they’re loving their sport, busy, disciplined and making progress, then I’ll never complain because it really is such a short time in your parenting life that you’re manically driving kids around like a crazy person.

“Ross and I actually say now that we miss those car rides with the kids. It’s in the car where you can catch up and I’ve found they tend to say things when you’re driving together that they aren’t able to say at the dinner table.”

With borders now open, Wendy is thrilled to be flying out this week to finally see her girl. After three long months apart, it’s sure to be an emotional reunion.

“I booked flights pretty much as soon as I could,” she says. “I’m so excited to see Addie again, as well as the university campus, where she lives, where she rows and some of her new friends. It’s

a whole new life she’s living that I’ve not seen!”

Another huge bonus, says Wendy, is she’ll be meeting up with a Canadian-based friend for a classic US road trip, driving together from LA to San Diego. “It’s going to be like Thelma & Louise with the wind in our hair! I can’t wait.”

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