Michelle Prendiville loves a lofty goal. When she was little, it was to be a Black Sticks hockey star. When that didn't work out, she decided she'd make it to the Olympics anyway – as a sports reporter.
And sometime in the future, she hopes that she will have worked up to ditching her wig and being able to share photos of who she is naturally – a strong, confident woman who happens to have alopecia.
"We're working up to it, but I'm also OK if I never get there!" the TVNZ 1 sports reporter smiles, tossing her lush locks back as she poses for our shoot.
It's been a long journey of acceptance for Michelle, 25, who first started losing her hair aged five and hid her condition from almost everyone for decades.
"My parents had no idea what was happening to me and I remember rubbing steroid creams into my head," she recalls. "But nothing really worked – I have so many pictures of me playing hockey with massive headbands on to try to hide the hair loss."
Then, in 2006, Michelle broke her arm and the trauma made her hair fall out even more rapidly, so a wig was her only option – one she's worn ever since.
"I've probably got about 10% of hair growth under here," she says, pointing to her head. "Annoyingly, it's just my head – I grow hair everywhere else! But it means I have to shave my head to get the wig to stay in place properly, so when I was younger and at hockey tournaments, I'd get up super-early to do it before anyone would realise."
Only her family, a few very close friends and her partner of three years, former Hurricanes and Highlanders rugby player Marty Banks, knew of Michelle's condition, until she decided to confess to it on social media in 2020.
"I was telling a lie, I suppose, until last year – for me, it was like coming out of the closet.
I hadn't even opened up to my best friends about it. I just wanted to be normal and I was scared of being treated differently.
"Since I started this job on TV, I've googled myself – I know you're not supposed to do that! – and the first thing that came up was 'Michelle Prendiville wig', so I was panicking that people knew."
However, now she's got more of a public profile –as TVNZ's sole reporter in Tokyo for Duke's coverage of the Paralympic Games – Michelle wants to use her condition to help other little girls going through the same process. "I'm starting that journey now and I'm determined to use this for good," she asserts.
Going to the Paralympics is a huge career milestone for Michelle, who has always wanted to be part of history by covering a pinnacle sporting event. "I've grafted away at it for ages," she says. "I've been at TVNZ for five years now and seen the big dogs go to Rugby World Cups. Those events are the dream, so I'm so excited to be going to the Paralympics."
As a child, Michelle always wanted to go to the Olympics as an athlete.
She tells, "I had it in my brain that I was going to be a Black Stick and I was going to go to the Games. I made the New Zealand under-18 hockey team, but then I ruptured my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] in my knee and it's hard to come back from that.
"It was that crucial period where I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life and as a young girl, I'd always looked up to Judy Bailey, telling everyone I was going to be the next Mother of the Nation, so journalism it was!"
After working behind the scenes on Breakfast, Michelle did a report for Midday News during the 2016 America's Cup, which kicked off her on-camera career.
The fact the Paralympics are in Japan is ironic, given Marty, whom she met through mutual friends, was based there for years, playing rugby.
"The funny thing is, he's back now playing for Southland and now I'm going over there," she laughs.
Marty played a big part in Michelle having the confidence to reveal her alopecia last year and was there for her when she posted on Instagram about her condition.
"I told him pretty early on and he was amazing," she smiles. "I mean, if someone's not supportive of it, you'd want to know early on! We're both very goal-oriented and we support each other. Marty has a big name and has achieved a lot. I'm always very conscious of the whole 'WAG' thing, but I want to be more than Marty Banks' girlfriend because I'm pretty cool myself!"
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