Career

Wendy Petrie on her roles as protective mother, keen runner and 'older woman' on TV

''I can't believe I'm this old − nearly 50! But it's a good time to be – you can be strong, keep your career and work hard; there is no reason why you need to stop.''

By Wendyl Nissen

When it comes to exercise it doesn't appear to be very hard to talk 1 News presenter Wendy Petrie into doing… well… anything.

There was the mud run TVNZ colleague Melissa Stokes talked her into doing last year.

"It was exactly what it sounds like," laughs Wendy. "Running through cow manure, [it was] really gross and you wouldn't want to hang onto any of the clothes you wore while you were doing it, but [it was] great fun!"

Then there was the Spirited Women All Women's Adventure Race in Taupo, which Wendy did with three other mothers. "We were all fit but we clearly needed to have done some work on our orienteering skills," she says.

"It was all run, run and no map, map!"

The course requires you to not only find your way out but also kayak, ride a bike and run in the bush. Wendy's team took seven hours to do it.

"It was such a crazy event, but so inspiring to see all these amazingly fit women doing it hard. I came across Silver Fern captain Laura Langman and she was obviously going in the wrong direction so I stopped her and said, 'Laura, let me tell you something. You're going the wrong way.'"

And there was the Auckland Marathon which she did last year, completing it in a very acceptable four hours and 25 minutes.

"It's probably got something to do with me heading towards 50," says Wendy (46) of her exercising.

"Some sort of mid-life crisis that makes me want to keep fit and keep moving.

"I can't believe I'm this old − nearly 50!" she laughs. "But it's a good time to be – you can be strong, keep your career and work hard; there is no reason why you need to stop. Just a few generations ago that wasn't the case for women."

To stay physically strong Wendy started running when she had her first child, Addison, 14 years ago.

"It was a way to get out of the house and just jog for half an hour, get some headspace and then return to the front line of nappies and breastfeeding.

"But then over the years, I got fitter and started running further and further."

It helps too that Addison has recently taken up competitive swimming and needs to be at the pool for practice at 5am.

"So I drop her off and go for a run and because she swims for two hours that's how long I run for, and I love it. On a beautiful Auckland morning you can't beat it as a way to start your day."

Wendy loves it so much that she and her husband, producer/director Ross Peebles will often find themselves arguing over who gets to take Addy to swimming, and therefore gets to go for a run.

"We both love exercise so yes, we can get a little edgy about who gets the time to do it," she laughs.

Wendy admits she'd always wanted to run a marathon but never thought she had the stamina to do four to five hours. But then she took a leaf out of fellow broadcaster and Weekly columnist Kerre McIvor's book and signed up with a trainer to get her marathon ready. In fact, she signed up with Kerre's trainer, Gaz Brown from Get Running.

"Once you're there he puts a plan in place, he's signing you up to the marathon, you've got your running watch and it's all go. There's no going back."

Wendy says she looks back at the photos of her running the Auckland Marathon with a friend and they are both smiling the whole way around.

"That was really the point. To do it and enjoy the hell out of it."

These days, Wendy is back to running three times a week because with three kids aged 8 to 14 life is a whole lot busier.

"I just couldn't have trained for the Auckland Marathon this year because I was doing early newsreading shifts filling in for Niva Retimanu on Newstalk ZB, then doing the news at the other end of the day," she explains. "I used to think when the kids were at school my days would get easier but I have revised that thought.

"It's a whole different ball game with teenagers because instead of changing nappies and trying to stop them running across the road you're suddenly looking after their hearts and minds and it becomes serious. You realise how emotional and vulnerable they are. I feel quite protective of them and just want them to be happy and mentally well."

Wendy says she keeps tabs on Zach (8), Liv (12) and Addy (14) by colour-coding their activities in her phone calendar.

"They each have a colour and that's the only way I can keep track of what is happening every day."

And she calls them each night while in the make-up chair, just to check how they're doing.

With Addy swimming, Liv rowing − which is a seven-day commitment − and Zach into basketball, Wendy says Ross helps with the sport pick-ups and dinner at the end of the day. And now, when she gets home from work, the kids are still up and keen to have a chat.

Wendy confesses she never talks about work at home, mainly because so much of the news wouldn't be of any interest to her kids or she wouldn't want them to know.

"It can get very emotional for me," she says. "When there were all those stories of the Syrian refugees, and that little boy drowned on the beach, I found it really tough," she says.

"I just got through the read and then looked away from the monitor because that was the only way I could keep it together for the next item."

At home, Wendy says her kids don't seem to be aware that she is one of the most recognisable people on television.

"They don't watch the news because they are often out doing their activities and sports. But having me as a mum definitely has its perks because they get to go to free movies and get some free popcorn, which they really like."

Wendy says TVNZ recently had an open day and that Zach loved getting behind the camera.

"He's quite interested in film work and he tells me he's going to be a YouTuber, so we'll see how that works out."

Wendy's kids are at an age where they could be spending a lot of time on smartphones and behind screens, but she's been able to keep that to a minimum due to a parenting tip she calls "busy, broke and buggered."

"You keep them really busy, really broke and really, really tired, so that when they get home they are all starving and exhausted," she laughs.

Her career has not come without a sense of guilt − for not being there in the afternoon when someone else is taking them to netball or after-school activities − but at the same time she feels she is setting a good example by being a working mother who is helping to pay the mortgage, and that's okay.

Wendy started running after the birth of her eldest child Addison and hasn't stopped.
Wendy started running after the birth of her eldest child Addison and hasn't stopped.

Wendy also realises that it's important to give some time to herself.

"When you're walking outside or running that is the time when you have your best ideas, and I love that. It's so important I make sure I have some easy thinking time."

She also spent time in Los Angeles recently, meeting up with a girlfriend who had moved to Canada, and confesses they went out and did quite a bit of "old lady dancing".

If she had a day all to herself, with no family to think about, Wendy says she would get some exercise in the morning and then meet friends for lunch.

"We all live in Auckland, about five minutes from each other, but never have any time to just catch up and chat."

Then, she says, she'd sit by a pool and read a book unless she was on a tropical island, in which case she'd have a margarita.

Wendy will mark presenting the news for 13 years at the end of the year
Wendy will mark presenting the news for 13 years at the end of the year

At the end of this year Wendy will mark presenting 1 News for 13 years. It wasn't so long ago that women who reached a certain age were not welcome in TV presenting roles, but Wendy feels that has changed.

"We can all be around for much longer than turning 50!

"[And] We have the #metoo movement, an awareness of pay equity and I think people are finally understanding that it is really important to have veteran, experienced women on the news. We've got Hilary Barry on Seven Sharp and Kerre McIvor is about to take over from Leighton Smith on ZB next year.

"I think it's so important to have older women around in the workplace and I'm so lucky that my daughters are growing up thinking they can be the Prime Minister and have a baby while they're at it or fly a plane – anything they want.

"It's such a great time to be a woman − the future looks so bright."

read more from