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Wendy Petrie’s personal cancer crusade

The One News broadcaster is fighting for her family.

Wendy Petrie is usually pretty good at keeping her emotions in check. You have to be when you’re one of the country’s most-watched newsreaders. In fact, she’s so good at it, people assume she’s that serious in real life, then get quite a shock when they discover she’s actually rather funny.

But currently, the cool, calm and collected voice we’re so used to hearing in our living rooms every weeknight at 6pm is wavering, and her usually composed face is barely holding back tears.

We’re talking about how she taking part in the annual Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge, which involve running up all 1103 stairs of the iconic Auckland landmark in full firefighter garb. To Wendy’s shock, this included the heavy air tank. It’s a detail she accidentally overlooked in the information packet – though that’s not why she’s upset.

The One News presenter has just revealed her motivation for taking part in the Leukaemia and Blood Foundation event, and it’s very much a personal crusade – her eight-year-old niece is battling leukaemia.

“She’s in the middle of treatment – she’s been told it’s going to be a tough two and a half years, and then it will be okay,” Wendy tells.

“She lives in Wellington, but the oncology unit is actually in Christchurch. It’s a huge thing to fly down there once a month for treatment. She’s so incredibly brave, and I’m just blown away by how strong she and the rest of the family are. We’re just trying to do everything we can to support them.”

Wendy nods, her voice cracking before she offers a small smile.

“So 14 minutes of hell is nothing – I can definitely tough it out!”

And she did. Last weekend, the training paid off and the popular presenter made it to the top.

Wendy at the top of the Sky Tower with TVNZ reporter Chris Chang. Image/Twitter.

Wendy, 44, is an active woman – she completed her first half marathon in Queenstown last year and just did the Hawke’s Bay half this month.

“I love the whole going away for a weekend with no kids thing!” she laughs. “I think that’ll be it, though. I’ve done it. It’s not great for the body, running. I’m looking forward to exercising just for fun again, and doing other stuff such as Pilates and barre.”

It’s a wonder she’s got time to do any of that, but Wendy – a mother to daughters Addison (12) and Liv (10), and son Zach (6), who they affectionately call Brutus – makes time for about two runs a week.

“I got into it after I started having kids,” she explains. “It was one thing I could do anywhere, any time – and it gives me some headspace. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years. I’d never done anything challenging, so I signed up for the Queenstown half-marathon and about 16 of us went down to Hawke’s Bay.”

There’s no complaining from Wendy, who sees the physical tests as a nice distraction from the toughest job in her life – raising her three children. Indeed, just as she’s settling in for an interview with the Weekly at SkyCity, her phone buzzes. It’s Liv’s school, ringing to say her daughter has had an accident and may or may not have a broken collarbone.

After a flurry of phone calls, it’s sorted without any trace of panic – Wendy’s husband Ross Peebles, who is a producer on TV One’s hit show Mastermind New Zealand, will pick Liv up and take her to A&E.

Balancing work and home life is “always a struggle”, Wendy says with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Training is hard, but I guess for me, the other things in life are tougher – like making sure the kids are happy. I find things like that more stressful.

“I actually enjoy the idea of running up the Sky Tower. It’s a great cause and I’m proud to do it. I find the other aspects of my life – the real world – more challenging.“

It’s a day-to-day balancing act that requires a lot of taxiing her three very active kids to their various singing, dancing and swimming lessons before she arrives at TVNZ in the afternoon. Wendy reveals becoming older and wiser has helped refine their often unpredictable routine.

“You learn how to make it work for you,” she says. “Okay, you need someone to clean the house once a week, so be it – you organise that if it’s going to get you through the week. Other mothers are really good at helping out too, coming to your aid by transporting kids here and there.”

One thing she’d like to do more of, however, is the simple stuff.

“You get so caught up in maintenance around the house and chores, and all that. It would be nice to do more things as a family, like getting in the car and going out to the forest to do some bike riding, or go to the beach one afternoon and just hang out. I hope we can do more of that, actually.”

But first things first – the stair challenge. As well as the physical component, there’s also the small matter of raising as much money as possible for Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand. She’s got the TVNZ newsroom in her sights. While she hasn’t been walking around shaking an ice-cream container under Mike Hosking’s nose – yet – a simple email to her colleagues has resulted in an amazing show of generosity.

“Of course, Toni Street was the first one to donate,” grins Wendy. “And I was reading the news with Peter Williams the other week and he said he’ll sponsor me 10 cents a step. I was like, boom! That’s… well, a lot,” she laughs, giving up the feeble attempt at maths.

“We’ve got a great team actually – we’re all very tight and very supportive of each other. We’re enjoying showing a bit more personality lately. The thing about my job and Simon’s [Dallow] is that we have to be serious – it’s the news! But every so often, with things such as our little chat to Mike and Toni, you can give yourself away a bit more and have a little humour. People can see you in a different light.”

Words: Kelly Bertrand

Watch: Simon Dallow and Wendy Petrie’s Pun News

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