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Career

Jenny-May Clarkson on her newfound confidence and joy at landing her Breakfast TV role

She says the 'old' her would have had a lot of self-doubt about the Breakfast job.

By Alice O'Connell
It's a good thing Jenny-May Clarkson loves an early start.
After bringing us the day's sports headlines on 1 News for the past 13 years, the former Silver Fern is bidding the 6pm team farewell – but not before she ends on a high, travelling to Japan to report on the Rugby World Cup.
She's right there in the thick of the action and when she returns on September 30, she'll be taking the seat left vacant by Daniel Faitaua on Breakfast, working on the news desk alongside hosts Hayley Holt and John Campbell, and Matty McLean on weather.
She couldn't be more thrilled.
It was just six months ago that Jenny-May bravely revealed to the Weekly the huge emotional struggle she'd been battling off-camera – and sometimes, without viewers even realising, literally right in front of us on live TV.
In July last year, Jenny-May's big brother Jeffrey passed away, his hand in hers, two years after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Tragically, it was the second sibling she had lost, after meningitis claimed her brother Charles when he was just 10 and Jenny-May was six.
Her heartache didn't end there. Just three-and-a-half months after losing Jeffrey, her cherished father Te Waka passed away from a heart attack – or more likely, says Jenny-May, a broken heart.
The former police officer tried to continue on in typical Jenny-May style – "just keep moving forward, don't look back" – but grief had other ideas.
It demanded her attention and manifested itself physically in the form of panic attacks. Terrifyingly, they began to happen while she was reading the sports news live on air.
Somehow, Jenny-May was able to keep on top of them – managing to make it to the next clip or ad break and regather before the audience or even those around her realised what was happening.
In March, she described the attacks as a knot in her stomach. "And then suddenly I couldn't breathe. I didn't think I was going to be able to carry on."
Six months later, those days are far behind her. But it's with an immense gratitude that she looks at her life now. She's very aware that her journey of healing and self-discovery led her to a better place and landed her a dream job.
"It's something I heard someone say again just this morning: 'It takes something profound to happen in your life in order for you to make change,'" reflects Jenny-May (45).
"My brother and father dying in such a short space of time forced me into healing, into really dealing with grief."
After initially trying to outrun her pain, the broadcaster instead turned around and tackled it head-on. She began working with a counsellor, started a daily meditation and gratitude practice, educated herself by reading and listening to podcasts, and really sat in her sorrow while doing a lot of self-reflection.
"Those events just triggered, quite unexpectedly, me dealing with my grief. In the process, pathways opened up to help me let go of a lot of things. "I've gone from having panic attacks on air to now just being very, very comfortable in what I'm doing."
Today, Jenny-May isn't the person she was a year ago.
"I don't think I'd be in this position if I hadn't gone through that trauma and worked through it," she says.
"I could have not worked through it, and I'd still be stuck in it right now. But instead, I look back at this last year and go, 'Wow.' It's been a pretty crazy journey."
She says the 'old' her would have had a lot of self-doubt about the Breakfast job.
"I wouldn't be at this point where I feel confident enough and self-assured enough to go, 'Yeah, I can do that!' I would have had those things in my head about, 'Wait, am I actually capable of doing something like this?' After this year, I am just very, well… me. I am what I am and that's it. I'm not afraid
to be myself any more."
In 2015, Jenny-May's father Te Waka walked her down the aisle.
So when Jenny-May knew her friend Daniel was going to be leaving his Breakfast role, she decided to talk to her husband Dean and children about vying for the role.
Jenny-May and Dean (44) have been married for four years, after a whirlwind romance that saw them get engaged 11 days after meeting. They have twin boys, Atawhai and Te Manahau (3), and shared care of Dean's daughters, Libby-Jane (14) and Leah (12).
"The first thing we asked as a whanau was, 'Why do I really want to do this?'" Jenny-May recalls.
"My husband and I talked through that and I said, 'I just see this as an opportunity for me to grow.'
"I've been in sports a long time and this was an opportunity to grow and learn in a new team, and show a bit more of my personality, but also be challenged by the format of the show."
Confident that she was making the decision for the right reasons, the next question was, "Does it fit into our whanau and how we operate?"
They concluded that the new routine would work – in fact, it would free up more of Jenny-May's days so she could be home, take care of the household and be present for her children and husband in afternoons and evenings.
"We have a full-on house, and in the last few years I've been so busy, I'm just trying to get everything done," reflects Jenny-May.
"The kids will talk to me sometimes and I'm half-listening – I'm trying to be engaged, but a part of me is thinking, 'Hurry up, mate, I've got things to do!'"
There's been a lot of juggling in her relationships, as she and Dean prioritise the children's needs while making time for just the two of them.
"This job means I have more time for our kids and my family. I can get everything organised during the day so that when my family comes home I'm more available to everyone and that's what's important to me."
Once they'd figured out the job would work, Jenny-May did something she wouldn't have done before. She went up to see the bosses at TVNZ to let them know she was ready for a challenge, and she wanted to put her name forward.
"I went to speak to them because I now think if you want something, you've got to make that known. A lot of the time we sit back and think, 'Oh, they'll think of me!' But the reality is that bosses have many hats they wear and sometimes unless you throw yourself in front of them and go, 'Hey! I'm here! I'm keen,' they don't necessarily know that it's something you're interested in. So I did that!"
Clearly, it wasn't a difficult decision for TVNZ.
"We couldn't be happier that Jenny-May is joining the Breakfast team," says executive producer Jonathan Williams.
"We love her down-to-earth personality, her wit and her warmth. She's walked a unique path to Breakfast – from elite athlete to police officer to sports journalist – and that's part of what makes her such a special broadcaster. We're looking forward to getting to know Jenny-May better, along with all our keen Breakfast fans."
For the next two weeks, we'll see Jenny-May reporting from Japan in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup
She squirmed when they made the announcement live on air on September 2, with John Campbell praising her authenticity.
"I hated all that attention! Hated it!" she says, laughing, but she was also grateful for the welcome.
"It speaks volumes about them as people because I'm the new one coming in.
"I've been in many teams where things haven't been that way. You get that: 'We're going to suss you out first before we let you into our inner sanctum.' There's nothing like that in this team – just genuinely good people in the massive team that work on Breakfast."
She hasn't yet spent a lot of time with her fellow presenters, but she says she already trusts them and is excited about working with them.
"There's vulnerability from every single one of them, and a willingness to learn and always do better. Even John – he's been doing this for a long time, and he still asks for feedback and genuinely wants to know what you think."
Jenny-May is also grateful for the show's many thousands of viewers.
"It's such a privilege that people turn the TV on in the mornings and let us into their homes – and that might sound like lip service, but we all genuinely believe that, because it is! I know what mornings are like! There's not a moment that goes by on air that we don't think about that."
For the next two weeks, we'll see Jenny-May reporting from Japan in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup.
Earlier in the year, she was in Cardiff for the Netball World Cup, where she made a bang-on early prediction about how well the champion Silver Ferns would go.
So does she have any predictions for our boys in black?
"I have an idea in my head, but I'm not ready for a prediction yet. When I was at the netball, I was there, I was amongst it, I could really feel it… I haven't been there yet. I'll let you know soon! I'm so excited about being there.
"And I'll be so excited to get home to my family at the end of it because that's what lights my fire. They're what really matters."
Spark Sport will stream all 48 matches of Rugby World Cup 2019 live and on demand. TVNZ 1 will broadcast up to 12 matches free to air, including delayed coverage of all New Zealand matches, and live coverage of the semi-finals and final.

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